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Sleep Med Rev. 2007 Dec;11(6):439-51. Epub 2007 Aug 30.

The thermophysiological cascade leading to sleep initiation in relation to phase of entrainment.

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Centre for Chronobiolgy, Psychiatric University Clinics, Wilhelm Klein Strasse 27, 4025 Basel, Switzerland.


This article reviews circadian thermoregulation in relation to sleep induction and phase of entrainment in the light of the comprehensive thermophysiological and chronobiological concepts of Jürgen Aschoff. The idea that temperature and sleep are interrelated is based on evolutionary history. Mammalian sleep developed in association with endothermy, and all species, independent of temporal niche, usually sleep during the circadian trough of their core body temperature (CBT) rhythm. The circadian pattern of CBT results from the balance between heat production and heat loss, the latter being relevant for sleep induction. Sleep under entrained conditions is typically initiated on the declining portion of the CBT curve when its rate of change and body heat loss is maximal. Body heat loss before lights off, via selective vasodilatation of distal skin regions, promotes sleepiness and the rapid onset of sleep. This thermophysiological effect represents the cement between the circadian clock and the sleep-wake cycle, and in turn determines phase of entrainment (Psi) and sleep onset latency (SOL). These interrelationships have been recently studied in a particular subset of the general population, mainly women, who suffer from cold hands and feet (the so-called vasospastic syndrome, VS). Women with VS exhibit not only a lower capacity to lose heat during the daytime but also a prolonged SOL, a disturbed Psi of the circadian clock with respect to the sleep-wake cycle and psychologically, a disposition to turn experienced anger inwards. This naturalistic model leads us to a more general conclusion that regulation of distal skin blood flow may have clinical relevance for insomnia, in particular sleep onset insomnia.

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