Pleasure: The missing link in the regulation of sleep

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Although largely unrecognized by sleep scholars, sleeping is a pleasure. This report aims first, to fill the gap: sleep, like food, water and sex, is a primary reinforcer.

The levels of extracellular mesolimbic dopamine show circadian oscillations and mark the “wanting” for pro-homeostatic stimuli. Further, the dopamine levels decrease during waking and are replenished during sleep, in opposition to sleep propensity. The wanting of sleep, therefore, may explain the homeostatic and circadian regulation of sleep. Accordingly, sleep onset occurs when the displeasure of excessive waking is maximal, coinciding with the minimal levels of mesolimbic dopamine. Reciprocally, sleep ends after having replenished the limbic dopamine levels. Given the direct relation between waking and mesolimbic dopamine, sleep must serve primarily to gain an efficient waking.

Pleasant sleep (i.e. emotional sleep), can only exist in animals capable of feeling emotions. Therefore, although sleep-like states have been described in invertebrates and primitive vertebrates, the association sleep-pleasure clearly marks a difference between the sleep of homeothermic vertebrates and cool blooded animals.

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