Interleukin-1 beta (IL1) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) promote non-rapid eye movement sleep under physiological and inflammatory conditions. Additional cytokines are also likely involved but evidence is insufficient to conclude that they are sleep regulatory substances. Many of the symptoms induced by sleep loss, e.g. sleepiness, fatigue, poor cognition, enhanced sensitivity to pain, can be elicited by injection of exogenous IL1 or TNF. We propose that ATP, released during neurotransmission, acting via purine P2 receptors on glia releases IL1 and TNF. This mechanism may provide the means by which the brain keeps track of prior usage history. IL1 and TNF in turn act on neurons to change their intrinsic properties and thereby change input-output properties (i.e. state shift) of the local network involved. Direct evidence indicates that cortical columns oscillate between states, one of which shares properties with organism sleep. We conclude that sleep is a local use-dependent process influenced by cytokines and their effector molecules such as nitric oxide, prostaglandins and adenosine.