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Our sleep timing is controlled by something called a circadian clock as well as a function called sleep-wake homeostasis and, to a degree, our own willed behaviour. In other words, there are a number of variables at play when it comes to the timing of our sleep. This will come as no surprise to those people who have done an all-nighter despite feeling exhausted.
The circadian clock is an inner timekeeper that functions with the help of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. During the day adenosine is produced by the body and once this neurotransmitter has reach to certain level in the body it will start making the person tired. One of the signs of this build up is that the body cools down.
Homeostatic sleep propensity (or the necessity for sleep as a function length of time since the last fulfilling sleep period) needs to be balanced with the circadian rhythm of sleep. While the circadian clock measures how long a person has been awake, homeostasis is concerned with when their last good sleep was. Together these two help to regulate sleep and ensure that the person gets the right amount of fulfilling sleep at the right intervals.
While our own will power is able to offset these two innate aspect, it can only do so for so long.
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