Sleep and its possible role in learning: a phylogenetic view

Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2009 Jun 1;1:437-47. doi: 10.2741/s36.


A fascinating but still partly unsolved scientific question is to understand the function/s of sleep. Many hypotheses have been proposed, and in this review I focus on the idea that sleep has a role in supporting brain plasticity, learning and memory. Although the majority of sleep research is concentrated on vertebrates, especially humans and mammals, sleep-like behaviour is also evident in some invertebrates. Though surprisingly there are very few studies that have directly tested if there is a mechanistic link between sleep and plasticity. I argue that a phylogenetic approach gives potential insight into the mechanisms and roles of sleep, by allowing an analysis by comparison of the evolution of sleep and rest/activity cycles in organisms showing radically different lifestyles and brain plans. This review attempts to set the scene for a much more profound analysis of these issues using phylogenetic tools.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Vertebrates / classification
  • Vertebrates / physiology*