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New Sleep Theories

The interpretation of sleep as one of the essential life phenomena is the basis of the biological conceptions as elaborated by Claparède, Sidis, and Coriat. In fact, Claparède interprets many abnormal psychic conditions from a purely biological standpoint. His biological theory of sleep has attracted considerable attention.1 According to him, sleep is not due to fatigue because fatigue frequently produces insomnia.

Sleep is a negative state, a cessation of all activity. It is a reaction of defence to  protect the organism against fatigue, rather than a psychological process, the result of fatigue. It is an instinct; we sleep not because our nervous system is poisoned or exhausted, but because there is an inhibition of attention for the present situation, really the active development of disinterest. In fact, we tend to become drowsy and fall asleep when we become disinterested. He asks the very pertinent question—At what step in evolution did sleep first appear? and in reply he states, “Sleep did not necessarily exist at all times; it is, in fact, a contingent phenomenon, and is not implied in the conception of life; the lower forms of animal life, microbes and infusoria, do not manifest any sleep. If sleep has developed, it is probably due to the fact that those animals whose activity was broken by periods of repose or of immobility have been favored in the struggle for existence, for they have been enabled, thanks to the accumulation of energy, during these periods of immobility, to manifest in consequence a more intense activity. As to these periods of immobility, they are themselves derived from the function of inhibition of defence, which plays such a great rôle in the animal kingdom (simulation of death).” According to Trömner, sleep is not dependent upon fatigue and he asserts that sleep and hypnosis have much in common. Sleep is an active process of instinctive inhibition and he assumes on various theoretical grounds that the optic thalamus is the seat of this instinctive action. That there is no relation between fatigue and sleep is shown, in that infants, who are least liable to fatigue, sleep the greater part of the time. Boris Sidis1 interprets sleep from the standpoint of the threshold of cell energy. These investigations showed that sleep is due in the main to the cutting out of all peripheral stimuli. Relaxation and not fixation of attention is necessary for sleep, for this latter frequently produces insomnia. Suggestibility is absent in the sleep state. Three essentials are necessary for the production of sleep, namely monotony of sensory impressions, limitation of voluntary movements, and inhibition. Of these three, the monotony of sensory impressions is the most important factor. In going to sleep, there is always an intermediary subwaking or hypnoidal state. This subwaking state is present, not only in man, but in the lower animals, such as dogs and kittens. Like Claparède, Sidis also considers sleep from the evolutionary standpoint. Sleep, therefore, biologically considered, is a reaction of protoplasm. It is as much an  instinct as sex or hunger.

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