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Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2004 Nov;10(6):468-74.

Mechanisms of arousal from sleep and their consequences.

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.



In recent years, understanding of the mechanisms by which sleep is maintained and the consequences of abnormal arousal from sleep has improved rapidly. This review describes the recent insights into the nature of sleep and arousal and the particular insights gained in common disease states such as sleep-disordered breathing.


Expansion of the definitions of the classic stages of non-REM and REM sleep to include consideration of the role of cyclic alternating pattern sleep as a gating mechanism for arousal and maintenance of stable sleep has led to a significant advancement in understanding the nature of normal and pathologic arousals from sleep. In addition, the effect of arousals from sleep on cerebral cortical electrophysiology and autonomic activation has been further defined, with a potential effect on clinical practice.


Arousal from sleep is dependent on wake-promoting influences overwhelming forces promoting sleep. Autonomic activation and cortical arousal can significantly affect and destabilize sleep homeostasis. The understanding of sleep-respiration interactions continues to evolve. The definition of the minimal arousal event is an important research goal. It will be important in clinical practice and research to consider sleep stability domains as a complement to sleep depth staging to allow better understanding of the relative stability and instability of the system and to consider all components of the consequences of arousal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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