SIDEBAR : Sleep Research Resources

Some consider sleep an unavoidable nuisance; others, a sweet indulgence. For the most part, though, we take our slumber for granted, rarely considering why we spend a hefty chunk of our lives unconscious.

But for sleep researchers, that question represents a supreme mystery. Exactly what purpose sleep serves, as well as how the body regulates sleeping and waking, remain largely unknown. Behavioral scientists and physiologists have pursued these questions for decades, laying the groundwork for more recent recruits to sleep scholarship: cell and molecular biologists, geneticists, and neuroscientists, among others. Much like their counterparts who study the molecular origins of hunger and obesity, these new sleep researchers expect to gain novel insights into this basic biological drive. But at this early stage, ambiguous and conflicting evidence often adds to the field's inherent mystery.

"I think the function of sleep will ultimately be determined by molecular...

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