Is there a hormone or group of hormones that regulates when we feel sleepy late at night, or in the morning? Or is sleepiness caused by some other non-hormonal mechanism? (e.g. pure psychological, or neuronal.)


The release of the hormone melatonin is responsible for the feeling of sleepiness. It is released by the pineal gland and production starts when the light fades, as it's production is inhibited by light stimulation of the retina, the onset of the production is called dim-light melatonin onset. Artificial supplementation can increase sleep quality and regularity related to some sleep disorders and is often administered as pills or patches.

Adenosine is an inhibitory neuromodulator, ie it inhibits neural activity. Neural activity can be either excitatory or inhibitory and adenosine more strongly inhibits the excitatory neural activity. Thus, increased adenosine levels should decrease excitatory effect of nervous stimuli and make you feel more relaxed & sleepy.

Other hormones & neural pathways may be involved (serotonin and the serotonergic neural pathways for example) as well as other stimuli like other people's behaviours (yawning, stretching etc.).

This page and the wiki entry on melatonin have much more information.

From sleepfoundation:

Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body's pineal gland - a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is "turned on" and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 p.m. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours - all through the night - before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels by about 9 a.m. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks rg255. Unfortunately the link "This page" in the last sentence is inaccessible. Also, during my own research today I found something on "adenosine" influencing sleepiness but found the article hard to understand. Do you know what triggers adensine build up, which apparently causes sleepiness? $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Mar 27 '13 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @chris did the first link work? ("release of the hormone...") if so, that is the same page $\endgroup$ – rg255 Mar 27 '13 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ No the first one didn't either. Even just vaxa.com gives the error "403 - Forbidden: Access is denied." $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Mar 27 '13 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris edited to include quote from Växa site and effects/action of adenosine $\endgroup$ – rg255 Mar 27 '13 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ What about sleepiness during day time? How is that brought about? $\endgroup$ – Ram Manohar M Sep 21 '13 at 10:59

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