Total Wake: Natural, Pathological, and Experimental Limits to Sleep Reduction

New Mini Review Article in Frontiers in Neuroscience by:

Yuri Panchin1,2 and Vladimir M. Kovalzon1,3*

  • 1Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
  • 2Department of Mathematical Methods in Biology, Belozersky Institute, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
  • 3Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Front. Neurosci., 07 April 2021 |


Sleep is not considered a pathological state, but it consumes a third of conscious human life. This share is much more than most optimistic life extension forecasts that biotechnologies or experimental and medical interventions can offer. Are there insurmountable physical or biological limitations to reducing the duration of sleep? How far can it be avoided without fatal consequences? What means can reduce the length of sleep? It is widely accepted that sleep is necessary for long-term survival. Here we review the limited yet intriguing evidence that is not consistent with this notion. We concentrate on clinical cases of complete and partial loss of sleep and on human mutations that result in a short sleep phenotype. These observations are supported by new animal studies and are discussed from the perspective of sleep evolution. Two separate hypotheses suggest distinct approaches for remodeling our sleep machinery. If sleep serves an unidentified vital physiological function, this indispensable function has to be identified before “sleep prosthesis” (technical, biological, or chemical) can be developed. If sleep has no vital function, but rather represents a timing mechanism for adaptive inactivity, sleep could be reduced by forging the sleep generation system itself, with no adverse effects.

 Dedicated to Michel Valentin Marcel Jouvet (1925–2017)
Michel Jouvet, 2005 (Photo by Vera Nezgovorova)

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