The Science of Wake and Sleep

When you’re experiencing insomnia, what does that really mean? Our understanding of how our brains regulate sleep and wake has evolved. As a result, we've gained greater insight into insomnia and what causes it.

The science of wake and sleep

Scientific discoveries about insomnia have shown that your brain actually has 2 systems. One helps you sleep; the other helps keep you awake.

  • The wake system sends out signals that put your brain into an alert, or more active, state. This helps you wake up in the morning and stay awake during the day.
  • The sleep system sends signals that help you fall and stay asleep at night.

When your 2 systems function as they should, they complement each other, taking turns being in charge and sending signals at the right times. But that's not always the case. If your wake system stays active when it's time to sleep, it's considered to be in an overactive state and insomnia may be a result.

Could the wake system in your brain be causing your insomnia?

The feeling of being trapped between wake and sleep has more science behind it than you may think. When you wake in the morning, your brain sends signals that move it into an alert, or active, state. This helps you stay awake during the day. If these signals don't slow down at night, and you stay in an alert state, your brain is believed to be in a position of overactivity. If this happens, your sleep system may not be able to take over—this may be what's causing your insomnia.

Talk to your health care professional about your wake and sleep systems and what may be causing your insomnia.

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