, Volume 463, Issue 1, pp 169-176,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Sleep, vigilance, and thermosensitivity

Abstract

The regulation of sleep and wakefulness is well modeled with two underlying processes: a circadian and a homeostatic one. So far, the parameters and mechanisms of additional sleep-permissive and wake-promoting conditions have been largely overlooked. The present overview focuses on one of these conditions: the effect of skin temperature on the onset and maintenance of sleep, and alertness. Skin temperature is quite well suited to provide the brain with information on sleep-permissive and wake-promoting conditions because it changes with most if not all of them. Skin temperature changes with environmental heat and cold, but also with posture, environmental light, danger, nutritional status, pain, and stress. Its effect on the brain may thus moderate the efficacy by which the clock and homeostat manage to initiate or maintain sleep or wakefulness. The review provides a brief overview of the neuroanatomical pathways and physiological mechanisms by which skin temperature can affect the regulation of sleep and vigilance. In addition, current pitfalls and possibilities of practical applications for sleep enhancement are discussed, including the recent finding of impaired thermal comfort perception in insomniacs.

This article is published as part of the Special Issue on Sleep.