The Chemistry of Sleep


Sleep is a very important part of everybody’s lives. Sleep helps people recharge and get ready for the day. Without sleep, people end up cranky and irritable. Running on low sleep can also negatively affect your health. It is vital to get enough sleep every night. This project explains the chemistry behind sleep and what goes on during the sleep cycle, chemically speaking. I chose this project because sleep is a big part of my life. I love sleep with a passion, even though I do not personally get enough of it. My life is affected by sleep because if I do not get enough of it, I lose all of my focus and I mentally and physically shut down.Composition of ...

There are two main chemicals that are found in the brain during sleep. One is adenosine, which has a chemical equation of C10H13N5O4. Adenosine is a byproduct of energy consumption. As you go throughout your day, your body burns energy and as it does that adenosine is created. Adenosine makes you feel tired and sleepy. When you sleep, your body burns off the adenosine that has accumulated. That is why you feel tired after a long day or if you did not get enough sleep. All the adenosine has not been burned off. The other main chemical found during sleep is melatonin, which has a chemical equation of C13H16N2O2. Melatonin is created by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin inhibits alertness and induces sleep. However, melatonin is extremely sensitive to light. Melatonin is stimulated by the approach of night, but it starts to go away once light is introduced. That is why people tend to wake up when the sun rises and why some people need absolute darkness to sleep.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Adenosine: C10H13N5O4. This chemical is a byproduct of energy consumption and it helps you to feel tired. Adenosine is burned off when you sleep.

Melatonin: C13H16N2O2. This chemical inhibits alertness and induces sleep. However, this chemical is interrupted by light. It works best in complete darkness.

Chemistry's Role

Adenosine and Melatonin seem to be naturally occurring chemicals that are produced in your brain to aid in sleep. Both are naturally occurring in the brain. The final product of all of this is sleep, which is obviously not man made. It is the body’s natural reaction when it need to “recharge its batteries”.

During the day, adenosine builds up because you are burning energy. Adenosine starts off the whole sleep process. When you are tired at the end of the day, melatonin that your body has created is released and this inhibits your alertness and makes you sleepy. As you sleep, the adenosine starts to wear off. The melatonin is working to induce sleep and keep you sleeping. However, melatonin is extremely sensitive to light. Any light will disturb it and harm your sleep.

Background Research

Sleep is a basic need for all human beings. Therefore, we all have experience with sleep. We all know that when we do not get enough sleep, we do not function as we normally would. Sleep is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens when your body needs to rest and take a breather. Without sleep, your body will not function like it is meant to. Eventually, your body will take over and will force you to sleep. It does this because it needs sleep to keep on living and thriving.


On this site I learned some of the chemicals that are involved during sleep and for sleep regulation. I learned about adenosine and melatonin on this and some of their roles in sleep.

On this site I learned multiple things about sleep. I learned about the REM cycle, how sleep helps us, sleep and circadian rhythms,and sleep disorders. This site has a lot of information.

On this site, I found a much more detailed look at melatonin and circadian cycles. This site gave me more insight as to why people need sleep and when they need it.

This site helped me to understand some of the scientific and chemical processes that go on in the brain during sleep and how they affect us.

On this site, I found information on the different cycles of sleep and how they work and how much sleep an average human needs.

On this site I found how sleep helps the body to recharge and what can happen when you do not get enough sleep.

On this site, I found information about adenosine, which is one of the major chemicals found in sleep.

On this site I found information about melatonin, which is another major chemical found in sleep.

About the Author

Peter Wall is currently a junior at Billings Senior High. Peter enjoys going to youth group and going on mission trips to Honduras and other countries. When he is not busy with church, he loves sports. He enjoys golfing and is a die hard fan of the Minnesota Twins. He is also one of the most handsome young men around. For the future, Peter plans to go to college and pursue a career in sports management and have a family.