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Theories Of Sleep Essay

Oswald's Restoration Theory of Sleep

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A restorative theory claims that sleep is used to repair the body including the brain. Oswald suggests that slow wave sleep is when body repair occurs and REM sleep is when the brain is repaired. This is supported by the fact that there is an increase in the secretion of growth hormones during SWS. This could also explain why brain activity levels are high during REM sleep, and similar to when awake.
Stern and Morgane back up Oswold’s theory about REM sleep with their activation synthesis theory. They believe, with support from research that shows that when people take antidepressants, their REM sleep decreases, that REM sleep is a time for synthesizing nor-adrenaline and dopamine, which are used as antidepressants. This is however, a correlation study which means it doesn’t show causality.
Many studies of the role of sleep are partial or total sleep deprivation studies which support Oswold’s restoration theory. One of these supporting studies was Dement’s. He deprived participants of REM sleep and consequently found that they increased their number of attempted REM stages from 12 to 26 over 4-7 nights. During their first uninterrupted night, participants increased their REM sleep by 10% which is known as REM rebound. This suggests the importance of REM and the possibility that the purpose of sleep is to get into REM sleep. The participants reported anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating which shows that REM sleep is needed to avoid these affects and enable brain recovery which corresponds with Oswold’s theory. Even so, Dement’s study has low ecological validity, it has low population validity because there were only 8 participants and they were a self-selected sample. Participants would probably have shown demand characteristics because the experiment took place in a lab. It also has low mundane realism because people would not usually sleep in a lab and be interrupted repeatedly.
This is also unethical as it caused stress. A total sleep deprivation study is even more unethical and therefore difficult to gain participants for, but as a case study, Randy Gardner broke the world record. He suffered from paranoia and hallucinations as a result of the total sleep deprivation which again shows the importance of sleep. However it is not feasible to generalise to the whole population from one self-selected participant.
Further evidence to support Oswold’s theory about SWS, comes from the idea that more physical exercise would lead to more SWS because the body needs more repair.

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"Oswald's Restoration Theory of Sleep." 11 Mar 2018

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Shapiro studied long distance runners which can’t be generalised to the whole population because they are exceptionally fit. Even so, he found that the runners slept 1.5 hours longer than usual during the two nights following a 57 mile race. They devoted particularly more time in SWS.
In contrast to this study, Horne and Minard found that sleep length was not affected by a series of exhausting physical and cognitive activities. However the activities may not have been thoroughly exhausting making this study less valid.
In conclusion, Oswold’s restoration theory is well supported with empirical research and case study.

Sleep has been the subject of speculation and thought since the time of the early Greek philosophers, but only recently have researchers discovered ways to study sleep in a systematic and objective way. The introduction of new technology such as the electroencephalograph (EEG) has allowed scientists to look at and measure electrical patterns and activity produced by the sleeping brain.

While we can now investigate sleep and related phenomena, not all researchers agree on exactly why we sleep. Sleeping patterns tend to follow a fairly predictable schedule and experts agree that sleep plays an essential role in health and wellness.

 A number of different theories have been proposed to explain the necessity of sleep as well as the functions and purposes of sleep.

The following are three of the major theories that have emerged. 

Repair and Restoration Theory of Sleep

According to the repair and restoration theory of sleep, sleeping is essential for revitalizing and restoring the physiological processes that keep the body and mind healthy and properly functioning. This theory suggests that NREM sleep is important for restoring physiological functions, while REM sleep is essential in restoring mental functions.

Support for this theory is provided by research that shows periods of REM sleep increase following periods of sleep deprivation and strenuous physical activity. During sleep, the body also increases its rate of cell division and protein synthesis, further suggesting that repair and restoration occurs during sleeping periods.

Recently, researchers have uncovered new evidence supporting the repair and restoration theory, discovering that sleep allows the brain to perform "housekeeping" duties.

In an October 2013 issue of the journal Science, researchers published the results of a study indicating that the brain utilizes sleep to flush out waste toxins.

This waste removal system, they suggest, is one of the major reasons why we sleep.

"The restorative function of sleep may be a consequence of the enhanced removal of potentially neurotoxic waste products that accumulate in the awake central nervous system," the study's authors explained.

Earlier research had uncovered the glymphatic system, which carries waste materials out of the brain. According to one of the study's authors, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, the brain's limited resources force it to choose between two different functional states: awake and alert or asleep and cleaning up. They also suggest that problems with cleaning out this brain waste might play a role in a number of brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Evolutionary Theory of Sleep

Evolutionary theory, also known as the adaptive theory of sleep, suggests that periods of activity and inactivity evolved as a means of conserving energy. According to this theory, all species have adapted to sleep during periods of time when wakefulness would be the most hazardous. 

Support for this theory comes from comparative research of different animal species. Animals that have few natural predators, such as bears and lions, often sleep between 12 to 15 hours each day.

On the other hand, animals that have many natural predators have only short periods of sleep, usually getting no more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep each day.

Information Consolidation Theory of Sleep

The information consolidation theory of sleep is based on cognitive research and suggests that people sleep in order to process information that has been acquired during the day. In addition to processing information from the day prior, this theory also argues that sleep allows the brain to prepare for the day to come.

Some research also suggests that sleep helps cement the things we have learned during the day into long-term memory.

Support for this idea stems from a number of sleep deprivation studies demonstrating that a lack of sleep has a serious impact on the ability to recall and remember information.

Final Thoughts

While there is research and evidence to support each of these theories of sleep, there is still no clear-cut support for any one theory. It is also possible that each of these theories can be used to explain why we sleep. Sleeping impacts many physiological processes, so it is very possible that sleep occurs for many reasons and purposes. In all likelihood, sleep serves a number of different physiological and psychological purposes including cleaning up brain toxins and consolidating information into memory.


Gallagher, J. Sleep 'cleans' the brain of toxins. BBC News; 2013.

Xie, L., Hongyi, K., Qiwu, X., Chen, M. J., Liao, Y., Thiyagarjan, M., ... Nedergaard, M. Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science, 342(6156), 373-377. DOI: 10.1126/science.1241224; 2013.