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Natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored. Humans normally sleep at night, whereas nocturnal species sleep during the day. Adult humans sleep between six and nine hours per night, though increasing numbers of people sleep less than six hours. Sleep is divided into two main types: REM (rapid-eye-movement) and NREM (non-REM), each of which recurs cyclically several times during a normal period of sleep. REM sleep is characterized by increased neuronal activity of the forebrain and midbrain, by depressed muscle tone, and by dreaming (seedream), rapid eye movements, and vascular congestion of the sex organs. NREM sleep is divided into stages, the last of which is the deep, restorative, quiet sleep commonly associated with a good night's rest. See alsoinsomnia; narcolepsy.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sleep, visit Britannica.com.