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A Quantitative, Theoretical Framework for Understanding Mammalian Sleep

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V. Savage and G. West, PNAS 104 :1051 (2007)

Sleep is one of the most noticeable and widespread phenomena occurring in multicellular animals. Nevertheless, no consensus for a theory of its origins has emerged. In particular, no explicit, quantitative theory exists that elucidates or distinguishes between the myriad hypotheses proposed for sleep. Here, we develop a general, quantitative theory for mammalian sleep that relates many of its fundamental parameters to metabolic rate and body size. Several mechanisms suggested for the function of sleep can be placed in this framework, e.g., cellular repair of damage caused by metabolic processes as well as cortical reorganization to process sensory input. Our theory leads to predictions for sleep time, sleep cycle time, and rapid eye movement time as functions of body and brain mass, and it explains, for example, why mice sleep ~14 hours per day relative to the 3.5 hours per day that elephants sleep. Data for 96 species of mammals, spanning six orders of magnitude in body size, are consistent with these predictions and provide strong evidence that time scales for sleep are set by the brain’s, not the whole-body, metabolic rate.

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