Many neurochemical systems interact to generate wakefulness and sleep. Wakefulness is promoted by neurons in the pons, midbrain, and posterior hypothalamus that produce acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, histamine, and orexin/hypocretin. Most of these ascending arousal systems diffusely activate the cortex and other forebrain targets. NREM sleep is mainly driven by neurons in the preoptic area that inhibit the ascending arousal systems, while REM sleep is regulated primarily by neurons in the pons, with additional influence arising in the hypothalamus. Mutual inhibition between these wake- and sleep-regulating regions likely helps generate full wakefulness and sleep with rapid transitions between states. This up-to-date review of these systems should allow clinicians and researchers to better understand the effects of drugs, lesions, and neurologic disease on sleep and wakefulness.
España RA; Scammell TE. Sleep neurobiology from a clinical perspective. SLEEP 2011;34(7):845-858.