Using Your Homeostatic Sleep Drive for Better Sleep

Neuroscientists generally recognize three main processes that regulate sleep:  the circadian rhythm, the ultradian process that regulates Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep cycles, and the homeostatic sleep drive.  On any given night, all three work together to determine the intensity and duration of your sleep.

Circadian rhythms – the cycles of day and night – control sleep to some degree in all living beings. The physiological mechanism that regulates sleep is sometimes referred to as the biological clock, and the surprisingly simple cue that synchronizes the internal biological clock to the environmental cycle is light.

The ultradian process controls the alternation of the two basic sleep states:  REM and NREM sleep.

The homeostatic sleep drive regulates sleep intensity.  After about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, we normally feel a biological pressure to sleep. This pressure is the homeostatic component of sleep, and it’s controlled by a separate neurological regulatory mechanism in addition to the biological clock.

This regulatory mechanism is keyed by a pinhead-size cluster of brain cells known as the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, or VLPO. The VLPO is sensitive to a chemical naturally produced in the brain known as adenosine, one of several neurotransmitters involved with our daily sleep-wake cycle. After about 16 hours of adenosine build-up, the VLPO sends out a signal that it’s time to sleep.

In this way, the brain essentially keeps track of how long it is awake, and after about 16 hours reinforces the circadian rhythm to induce sleepiness.

Interestingly, caffeine apparently disrupts the neurological homeostatic process by blocking the VLPO’s ability to recognize adenosine. So in addition to being a metabolic stimulant, this is another reason why caffeine can disrupt sleep.

The precise neurological mechanism by which the three processes work and interact is a subject of intense scientific study and parts of the process remain a mystery.

Despite the unknowns however, this is a certainty: the longer an individual remains awake, the stronger the desire and need to sleep becomes.  At some point, in other words, sleep becomes irresistible.

We call this irresistible certainty the “Law of Prior Wakefulness”.  In the Sleep Training System, you will learn how to leverage the Law of Prior Wakefulness to your advantage.  In the STS, you will use proven interactive methods to leverage your natural homeostatic sleep drive to help overcome insomnia and sleep better long-term, without the need or use of drugs of any kind.

For more information, see the Sleep Principles section of the STS.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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24 Comments on “Using Your Homeostatic Sleep Drive for Better Sleep”


  1. […] basic idea with sleep restriction is to reduce the amount of time in bed in an effort to increase sleep drive, one of the key systems that control sleep.  In the downloadable Sleep Training System, we cover […]


  2. […] Two, with the exposure to bright light your brain begins tracking prior wakefulness.  After about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, a structure in the brain called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus sends out a signal that it’s time to sleep, reinforcing the circadian rhythm.  This second system is known as the homeostatic sleep drive. […]


  3. […] rhythm, along with your homeostatic sleep drive, are the two most important internal components that control sleep.  You want these two systems […]


  4. […] CBT program specifically designed for insomnia.  These methods will enable you to increase your sleep drive, reduce and control negative sleep thoughts, and create optimal sleeping conditions for yourself, […]


  5. […] sleep drive is a separate metabolic function in addition to the circadian rhythm.  Sleep drive is the biologic pressure to sleep.  It builds up over the course of a day.  The longer one is […]


  6. […] body’s internal biological clock synchronize to your natural circadian rhythm, and keep your sleep drive at a high level.  These processes largely control sleep, and when they are in synch sleep becomes […]


  7. […] among sleep experts. Some say it’s OK, others say no, it decreases your prior wakefulness and homeostatic sleep drive, therefore making it more difficult to fall asleep later.  That seems to be what you’re […]


  8. […] allowing the minimum time in bed needed for sleep helps ramp up your homeostatic sleep drive, one of the two key physiologic components that controls […]


  9. […] possible factor has to do with the alignment of your homeostatic sleep drive and your circadian rhythm, two key physiologic components that control […]


  10. […] of the most important controllers of sleep — circadian rhythm and sleep drive — are keyed to one unbroken period for sleep at night when it’s dark, and one more or […]


  11. […] about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, our homeostatic sleep drive normally sends out a signal that it’s time to sleep. Basically, our brains keep track of how […]


  12. […] not aware of the two most important mind-body systems that control sleep:  circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive.  These two physiologic processes work in tandem.  When synchronized and working well together, […]


  13. […] your body’s internal biological clock synchronize to your natural circadian rhythm, and keep your sleep drive at a high level.  These processes largely control sleep, and when they are in synch sleep becomes […]


  14. […] sleep is like that for food or water.  Our need for sleep is in fact so powerful that our built-in homeostatic sleep drive eventually overwhelms even the most persistent […]


  15. […] your circadian rhythm and synchronizing it to your homeostatic sleep drive.  Circadian rhythm and sleep drive are two of the most important internal processes that control […]


  16. […] early wake-ups may result from our homeostatic sleep drive being reduced significantly after 4 or 5 hours of sleep, while also being in a somewhat […]


  17. […] consistent wake time has the profound effect of enabling you to synchronize your sleep drive to your circadian rhythm.  These are the two internal processes that largely control sleep.  When […]


  18. […] concern about circadian rhythm is well placed.  Circadian rhythm, along with sleep drive, are the two internal components that largely control sleep.  It’s quite possible, even […]


  19. […] It’s also highly unlikely you went 4 straight days with no sleep, considering you were previously a “normal” sleeper.  This is not to deny your experience, but generally after about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness we feel a strong urge for sleep that continues to increase irresistibly until we actually do sleep.  This internal process is controlled by a mind-body system known as the homeostatic sleep drive. […]


  20. […] To help re-calibrate or entrain your circadian rhythm, it’s important to stay with your usual schedule in the new time.  Especially important is a consistent wake time, because this is your fixed point each day to both reset your circadian rhythm and synchronize it to your homeostatic sleep drive. […]


  21. […] homeostatic sleep drive is a separate regulatory function in addition to the circadian rhythm.  Sleep drive is the […]


  22. […] this is simply aging.  As we age, the strength of our circadian rhythm — which along with homeostatic sleep drive largely controls sleep — tends to somewhat […]


  23. […] is because you have an elegant built in system called your homeostatic sleep drive that tracks prior wakefulness.  Normally after about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, your sleep […]


  24. […] of background, the two most important internal systems controlling sleep are circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive. The two components, when synchronized and working well together, can make sleep when you want […]


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