Sleep is governed by two systems—the circadian clock and the sleep homeostat. While the circadian clock is quite well understood, very little is known about the sleep homeostat.
Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the new research was conducted, explained: ‘The circadian clock allows us to anticipate predictable changes in our environment that are caused by the Earth’s rotation. As such, it makes sure we do our sleeping when it hurts us least, but it doesn’t speak to the mystery of why we need to sleep in the first place.
‘That explanation will likely come from understanding the second controller—called the sleep homeostat. The homeostat measures something—and we don’t know what that something is—that happens in our brains while we are awake, and when that something hits a certain ceiling, we go to sleep. The system is reset during sleep, and the cycle begins anew when we wake up.’
Read more from the University of Oxford
See 11 Signs You’re Sleep Deprived Act Now