Mental Health

What is Sleep Drive And How Can You Support It?

It can be challenging getting restful sleep every night, but consistent habits make for better sleep quality and life quality. Sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythm decides our body’s need for sleep, and here is what you should know about your sleep drive.

By URLife Team
25 Jul 2023

Picture this: you wake up feeling refreshed, ready to conquer the day, armed with energy and enthusiasm. But as the day goes on, that pep in your step starts to fade, and the  sparkle in your eyes dims ever so slightly. But what could it be? It's none other than the fascinating phenomenon known as sleep/wake homeostasis!


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Sleep Drive and Sleep/Wake Homeostasis

Homeostasis refers to the state of balance among various elements within an organism or group. In the context of sleep, homeostasis is maintained through a delicate interplay between our need for rest, known as the "sleep drive" or "sleep pressure," and our need for wakefulness. When we've been awake for an extended period, our sleep drive signals that it's time to sleep. As we sleep, we restore equilibrium, and our sleep drive diminishes. Subsequently, our need for alertness gradually increases, indicating that it's time to wake up.

According to a 2023 study by Sleep Foundation, if our sleep/wake homeostasis were the sole regulator of our sleep drive, we would likely experience constant fluctuations between sleep and alertness throughout the day. For instance we might feel most alert in the morning, with our alertness fading as the day progresses. However, this is not the case. We can experience the same level of alertness in the afternoon as we did in the morning, even after being awake for hours. This is because sleep/wake homeostasis doesn't work in isolation to regulate our sleep patterns; our circadian rhythm also plays a crucial role.


Related story: What Is A Sleep Divorce And How Can It Help Your Relationship


Sleep Drive And Circadian Rhythm

As per a 2021 study issued in PLoS Biology, our circadian rhythm operates in a manner similar to homeostasis, working in conjunction with environmental cues like sunlight. This rhythm influences our level of alertness, causing it to fluctuate throughout the 24-hour day, which affects our periods of sleepiness and wakefulness.

Typically, people feel most fatigued and experience the well-known afternoon slump, which tends to occur after lunchtime. Sleep/wake homeostasis also plays a role in determining our alertness or tiredness. When we are sleep-deprived, tiredness becomes more pronounced, whereas with sufficient sleep, it diminishes.

Light significantly impacts our circadian rhythm, and for most individuals, their internal body clock aligns with the patterns of the sun. Consequently, exposure to artificial light during non-daylight hours can disrupt our circadian rhythm and, subsequently, our sleep drive.


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How does sleep drive change in people?

For most individuals, the circadian rhythm undergoes significant changes at three key stages in life: infancy, adolescence, and old age. 

  • When babies are born, they do not yet have a fully developed circadian rhythm. A newborn baby's sleep cycle requires up to 18 hours of sleep, which is typically divided into multiple short periods of rest. However, as babies grow, their circadian rhythm begins to take shape around four to six months of age. At this point, they tend to sleep in more extended blocks of time, with a more structured sleep-wake pattern.
  • According to a 2023 study issued in the journal Brain Sciences, During adolescence, nearly 16 per cent of teenagers experience a sleep phase delay. This means that their circadian rhythm undergoes a shift, causing their melatonin levels to start rising later in the evening. As a consequence, they naturally feel more alert during nighttime, making it challenging for them to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. The misalignment between their natural sleep-wake cycle and the early start times at schools make it difficult for teenagers to obtain the recommended 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night. As a result, many teens experience difficulties staying focused and alert during school hours due to sleep deprivation.
  • As we transition into our senior years, our sleep drive undergoes yet another change. The internal sleep clock begins to lose its regularity and consistency. Older adults often find themselves feeling tired earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning, leading to an overall reduction in the amount of sleep they get. This shift in sleep patterns increases the risk of cognitive decline in seniors. Furthermore, older adults who are experiencing conditions such as Alzheimer's, dementia, or other neurodegenerative diseases may face even more pronounced and severe alterations in their sleep drive. These conditions can further disrupt their sleep patterns and lead to additional sleep-related challenges.


Related story: Sleep Disorders-Types, Impact And Treatment of Insomnia


What happens when your sleep drive is off?

If your sleep drive is off or disrupted, it can lead to various negative consequences for your physical and mental well-being. The sleep drive is a fundamental mechanism that regulates your need for sleep, and when it's not functioning correctly, several issues can arise:

1. Sleep Deprivation: A disrupted sleep drive may lead to sleep deprivation, where you consistently get less sleep than your body needs. Sleep deprivation can result in daytime sleepiness, reduced cognitive function, impaired memory, and difficulty concentrating.

2. Mood Disturbances: Lack of sufficient sleep due to an imbalanced sleep drive can contribute to mood swings, irritability, and increased stress levels. Sleep plays a crucial role in emotional regulation, and insufficient sleep can exacerbate negative emotions.

3. Impaired Performance: When your sleep drive is off, your ability to perform daily tasks efficiently and safely can be compromised. Reduced alertness and slower reaction times may lead to accidents or errors in work or school settings.

4. Weakened Immune System: Adequate sleep is vital for a robust immune system. Disruption of your sleep drive can weaken your immune response, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

5. Increased Risk of Chronic Health Conditions: Chronic sleep deprivation, caused by an imbalanced sleep drive, has been linked to an increased risk of various health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and mental health disorders.

6. Reduced Physical Health: Poor sleep due to an off sleep drive can lead to reduced physical performance, slower muscle recovery, and decreased exercise tolerance.

7. Hormonal Imbalance: Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating hormones in the body. Disrupted sleep drive can lead to imbalances in hormones such as cortisol, insulin, and growth hormones, which may have adverse effects on metabolism and overall health.


Related story: 3 Habits For Getting Better Sleep


Ways to Fix Sleep Drive

To maintain a healthy sleep drive and overall well-being, it's essential to prioritise good sleep habits, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, create a sleep-conducive environment, and address any underlying sleep disorders or disturbances with the help of a healthcare professional if necessary. Improving and fixing your sleep drive involves adopting healthy sleep habits and making lifestyle changes that promote better sleep. 


Here are some effective ways to enhance your sleep drive:

1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and reinforces a steady sleep-wake cycle.

2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Develop a calming pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it's time to wind down. This could include activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing.

3. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: Minimise exposure to screens, including smartphones, tablets, and computers, at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt your body's production of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep.

4. Limit Stimulants: Avoid caffeine and other stimulants, especially in the afternoon and evening, as they can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

5. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that support proper sleep posture.

6. Get Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can improve sleep quality. However, avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, as it may energise you and make it harder to fall asleep.

7. Manage Stress: Practise stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or journaling, to help calm your mind before bedtime.

8. Limit Naps: If you have trouble falling asleep at night, avoid long daytime naps, as they can interfere with your nighttime sleep drive.

9. Limit Alcohol and Tobacco: Both alcohol and nicotine can disrupt sleep patterns, so try to limit or avoid their consumption, especially before bedtime.

10. Expose Yourself to Natural Light: Get plenty of natural sunlight during the day, as exposure to natural light helps regulate your body's internal clock and sleep-wake cycle.


If you constantly struggle with sleep despite implementing these changes, consider consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist. They can help identify and address any underlying sleep disorders that may be affecting your sleep drive.


Related story: Pink Noise--Can It Help You Sleep Better


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have sleep disorder. Taking regular health checks can help detect the condition at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.



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