Monday, September 27

How the pineal gland works, the enigmatic organ that regulates our sleep

  • Raquel Sánchez Varo, Diego Teófilo Bermúdez Flores and Juan Antonio López Villodres
  • The Conversation*

Drawing of a brain within the human skull showing the pineal gland behind the hypothalamus

Image source, Getty Images


The pineal gland is the size of a pea and is located behind the hypothalamus.

It is true that there are few things more pleasant than a restful sleep after “falling into the arms of Morpheus.” Now, another great truth is how annoying it is to “spend a night awake.”

Sleeping well is one of the physiological processes with the greatest impact on our daily wellness. In fact, long-term lack of sleep has negative effects on our health.

Sleep regulation

Sleep is regulated by the combination of two processes. On the one hand, circadian rhythms. On the other, the accumulation of sleep-inducing substances in the brain, such as adenosine. Its quantity depends on several factors. Among others, the time we have been awake (longer, more adenosine) or the quality of sleep.

Our circadian rhythm controls the so-called sleep-wake cycle, divided into a rest phase (dark-sleep) and an alert phase (light-activity). That is why it is related to our behavior throughout the day.

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