Ultradian Cycles in Sleep Propensity: Or, Kleitman’s BRAC Revisited

  • P. Lavie


In 1961, and then in 1963, Kleitman speculated that the cyclic variations in brain activity during sleep manifested as the rapid eye movement-non-rapid eye movement (REM-NREM) cycles are only a nocturnal fragment of an ongoing 24-h cycle which he termed the “basic rest-activity cycle” (BRAC). Although Kleitman was somewhat vague about the properties of the BRAC, he predicted that it would be manifested in cyclic variations in alertness. In his words: “This cycle is obscured during wakefulness by the great surge of cortical activity, but suggestions of its presence may be discerned in daytime oscillations in alertness, the often irresistible drowsiness after a big meal, and the relief that some persons get from brief catnaps” (Kleitman 1961, p. 361). No doubt Kleitman’s BRAC concept captured the imagination of many. This is evident from the large number of studies searching for ca 1.5-h cycles, which is the dominant periodicity of the REM-NREM sleep cycle in a variety of physiological, behavioural and endocrine functions (for a review see Lavie 1982). A large number of these studies have shown ultradian cycles with periodicities centred around this privileged periodicity, in support of Kleitman’s hypothesis. Such cycles were shown in various electroencephalographic (EEG) frequency bands such as α (8–9 Hz; Kripke and Sonnenschein 1978; Gertz and Lavie 1983) and δ (0.5–3 Hz; Kripke 1972), or the total power of the EEG (Manseau and Broughton 1984), in the tendency to fall asleep during the day (Lavie and Scherson 1981), and in autonomic indices of arousal such as pupillary diameter and reactivity to light (Lavie 1979), respiratory rate (Home and Whitehead 1976) and heart rate (Orr et al. 1976).


NREM Sleep Penile Erection Sleep Cycle Multiple Sleep Latency Test Ultradian Rhythm 
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© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1992

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  • P. Lavie

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