The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a fine-tuned interplay between sleep-homeostatic and circadian mechanisms. Compelling evidence suggests that adenosine plays an important role in mediating the increase of homeostatic sleep pressure during time spent awake and its decrease during sleep. Here, we summarize evidence that adenosinergic mechanisms regulate not only the dynamic of sleep pressure, but are also implicated in the interaction of homeostatic and circadian processes. We review how this interaction becomes evident at several levels, including electrophysiological data, neuroimaging studies and behavioral observations. Regarding complex human behavior, we particularly focus on sleep-wake regulatory influences on working memory performance and underlying brain activity, with a specific emphasis on the role of adenosine in this interplay. We conclude that a change in adenosinergic mechanisms, whether exogenous or endogenous, does not only impact on sleep-homeostatic processes, but also interferes with the circadian timing system.
Keywords: adenosine; circadian; cognition; sleep homeostasis; working memory.