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Psychological Theories of Sleep

 Sleep is an inhibition, a resting state of consciousness. Mental activity or consciousness is dependent upon peripheral incoming stimuli, and when these are absent, a lowering of mental activity follows and sleep results. According to this theory, if all peripheral stimuli are cut out, sleep will naturally follow. When we attempt to sleep, we voluntarily cut off all distracting external stimuli; we darken the room, lie quietly, stop all muscular activity, close the eyes, etc. In favor of this hypothesis are the observations on human subjects who have a general cutaneous anæsthesia and who fall asleep when sounds are excluded and the eyes are closed. Strümpell, for instance, reports the case of a sixteen-year-old subject with total anæsthesia of the skin to all stimuli, an absence of the muscular sense and of fatigue, no sense of taste or smell, blindness of the left eye and deafness of the right ear. If in this subject the right eye was bound and the lef t ear stopped, the brain was deprived of all stimuli from the external world and after a few minutes, the subject fell tightly asleep. Heubel showed, in experiments which were performed on animals, principally frogs and birds, that mental activity was dependent in great part on incoming peripheral sensory stimuli; when these were absent, the intensity of consciousness tended to diminish and sleep resulted. He states for instance:—“If the external causes of excitation are completely and permanently withdrawn, there appear, especially in birds, unmistakable signs of sleep. Their eyes become tightly and continuously closed, the respiration becomes regular, often surprisingly slow and the muscles relax.”

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