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The Functions of Sleep

Sleep Disorders Center, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Department of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD 21201

Topical Section: The Function of Sleep

Sleep is a ubiquitous component of animal life including birds and mammals. The exact function of sleep has been one of the mysteries of biology. A considerable number of theories have been put forward to explain the reason(s) for the necessity of sleep. To date, while a great deal is known about what happens when animals sleep, there is no definitive comprehensive explanation as to the reason that sleep is an inevitable part of animal functioning. It is well known that sleep is a homeostatically regulated body process, and that prolonged sleep deprivation is fatal in animals. In this paper, we present some of the theories as to the functions of sleep and provide a review of some hypotheses as to the overall physiologic function of sleep. To better understand the purpose for sleeping, we review the effects of sleep deprivation on physical, neurocognitive and psychic function. A better understanding of the purpose for sleeping will be a great advance in our understanding of the nature of the animal kingdom, including our own.
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