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Do We Need To Sleep?

We still do not know whether there is a need to dream or not, but is evident that the body requires REM sleep. REM deprivation does not lead to psychosis, bizarre behavior, anxiety or irritability, as was once feared (Kelly, Kandel). Subjects deprived of REM sleep for as long as 16 days shows no signs of serious psychological disturbance.

The most important effect of REM deprivation is a dramatic shift in subsequent patterns when the subject is allowed to sleep without interruption. Curtailment of REM sleep for several nights is followed by earlier initiation, marked lenghtening, and increased frequency of REM periods (Kelly, Kandel). The longer the deprivation the larger and longer the REM rebound. The existence of an active compensatory mechanism for the recovery of lost or supressed REM sleep suggests that REM sleep is physiologically necessary.

Webb (1985), found that sleep loss over 48 hours had little effect on precision and cognitive processing tasks, whereas subjective and attention measures suffered. Performance may be more due to motivational factors than cognitive components.

Lugaresi et al (1986) reported the case of a man who gradually began to sleep less and less; he suffered from waking dreams, disorientation, inability to concentrate and lack of intelligibility. When he died, he was found to have an inherited condition that caused his thalamus to degenerate.

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Author: Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD. Psychobiologist, master and doctor in Sciences by the University of São Paulo and post doctoral fellowship by the University of California, Los Angeles. Invited Professor and Associate Researcher of the Center for Biomedical Inofrmatics, State University of Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil. Email:

Translation: Silvia Helena Cardoso

Center for Biomedical Informatics
State University of Campinas, Brazil

Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD

Copyright 1997 State University of Campinas