updated November 5, 2014     

   an "escape" device based on evolutionary adaptation

Finally ... a Sleep
Theory That Makes Sense

(an "escape" device based
on evolutionary adaptation)

This proposition is written for both scientists and laymen. It is based purely on Darwinian concepts and constructed on a solid scientific foundation. But just as essential, it is grounded on common sense and observation.

The text is easy to understand and is without technical or scientific jargon. It is of potential interest to all human life that has ever experienced the phenomenon of sleep. It will be of conceivable interest to every conscious and coherent person on earth with its population of six billion living specimens any one of which might have pondered the rationale for sleep. Sleep can be both a blessing and a curse and the gift must be used with care. This work is an original creation of its author, David Marshall Mooney, and was written without assistance from any person or coauthor.

This document is written in two parts. First is the original text. Second is a complementary or clarifying addition to the original. Both are notarized, copyrighted and registered in Washington DC, assigned ISBN identification and published in the copyrighted and registered book "One Came A-Rendering - Revised Third Edition" by Dave Mooney.

The phenomenon of sleep has baffled scholars since recorded history and remains one of science's major unsolved mysteries. Sleep, however, is not inherently complicated and I hope that the people of the entire earth will enjoy reading this explanation of "what is sleep and why do we need it?" and then decide if it doesn't make sense.

David Marshall Mooney
Baltimore, Ohio USA



A notion conceived by David Marshall Mooney at his home in Baltimore, Ohio
on August 18, 2007

This proposition will argue that sleep is an early and profound evolutionary adaptation to cope with the trauma of surviving the lack of light that consumes at least a third of every 24 hour day and not as an innate need for a period of inactivity and loss of consciousness for whatever its alleged recuperative value might be. The act of sleeping changes absolutely nothing in reality but rather provides a merciful mechanism for making one unaware of the unpleasant or unbearable circumstances of a given situation. This document is complete within itself. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions and the purpose here is not to lecture but to reason.

Consider this Scenario:

One million years ago, an ancient ancestor sits alone in a northern European cave. Night is approaching with the promise of 14 hours of complete and utter darkness. No worthwhile task or activity can be performed in total darkness, No artificial light source is available. Our subject does not sleep. He has not yet evolved the miracle of sleep. He is conscious and awake during the entire period. Does he stand? Does he sit? Does he lie on the cave floor? Whatever he does, he is awake and conscious and sleep does not erase the agony of the inactivity of 14 hours of total darkness. Would the process of evolution be better served if the subject were to enter a harmless and merciful sort of stupor or unconscious state so as to safely and quickly pass through this worthless period of 14 hours of total darkness? Sleep is nothing more than an evolutionary adaptation to cope with total lack of light.

In reality, of course, our caveman subject had long before evolved such an escape mechanism of elective (elective only to a degree) "stupor" or "unconsciousness" and this, we contend, is the true genesis of the "sleep" phenomenon. Sleep, then, is an evolutionary "escape" mechanism and not a "recuperative" one.


a)  Sleep is an evolutionary escape adaptation evolved as a mechanism to cope with the fact of equally divided dark and light, a universal truth that can never be changed.

b)  Organisms can adapt; have adapted; and continue to adapt over indefinite years to suit and better cope with their particular environment.

c) The phenomenon of periods of light and dark is a natural law of the universe and can never be changed or modified in a manner that we presently understand.

d) It is not likely that primitive organisms without consciousness, would have evolved into the highly developed and "conscious" beings regarded contemporarily as "human" without having evolved  an effective mechanism for coping with long periods of total darkness.

e) Argument is made that a current and "conscious" species of animal life simply cannot cope psychologically with long and enduring periods of total darkness without going berserk. Hence the evolutionary value for periods of unconscious mental states or "sleep" as we know it.

f) It is not an accident that the approximate and traditional 8 hours "sleep" period coincides almost exactly with the daily and approximate 8 hour period of total darkness with which ancient and "conscious" animals had to cope.

g) The hibernating bear and other similar animals prove that sleep is nothing more than an escape device to cope with an adverse environment. Darkness is no less an adverse environment than is one of bitter and prevailing cold.

h) Once evolution provided the miracle of sleep, it had to provide a strong inducement for contem-porary life to enter this state of unconsciousness. The answer was "pleasure". In normal animal life, sleep is clearly pleasurable. It is somewhat akin to taking food or engaging in the sex act. Animal life that did not correctly utilize this device to cope with darkness, did not survive.

i) Both the heart and brain (as well as other organs) evolved as continuous operation mechanisms that, if adequately supplied with oxygen and other nutrients, require no "sleep" or "down" periods.

j) Trees and other plant life do not "sleep" because darkness presents no psychological threat since plant life is not conscious and, other than a cessation of photosynthesis, darkness presents no evolutionary crisis.

k) Artificial light is a conscious evolutionary effort to cope with darkness just as fire is a conscious effort to cope with cold. Likewise, if ancients could not eliminate total darkness, the escape mechanism evolved to adapt to it.

l) To cope with long periods of utter darkness, primitive animal life, over long periods of time, adapted to the environment by entering into a sort of "stupor" or unconscious state.

m) Since no constructive activity can occur in total darkness, the "sleep" syndrome adapted into periods encompassing the total dark period, however long.

n) This initial "stupor" (possibly a result of mutation) became "refined" over eons of time and resulted in what is accepted now as "normal" sleep.

o) It is difficult to imagine how contemporary humans would psychologically cope with our 8-12 hours of night if our ancestors had not, millions of years previously, evolved the phenomenon of sleep.

p) The principle is simple. Time passes rapidly, safely, and without notice when one is in a state of unconsciousness. The all-encompassing and fundamental purpose of sleep is to serve as an evolutionary adaptation that functions as nature's way of blotting out unpleasant or unbearable stress over which the conscious mind has no control.

q) It is argued that contemporary animal species, including Homo sapiens, evolved as potentially continuous function organisms and only the regular and predictable lack of light necessitated the evolutionary adaptation referred to as "sleep".

r) This theory is in total conformity with, and encompassed by, the general principles as expressed in the 1859 Darwin Theory.


Notes and Observations

Traditionally, "sleep" has been considered as an "entity" within itself. In its more correct treatment, "consciousness" is instead the true entity with sleep merely being a "lack" of "consciousness". When, inevitably, scholarship determines the true nature of the enigma of consciousness, it will simultaneously have discovered what happens when we lose this most remarkable - and misunderstood - of nature's gifts. This loss of consciousness (sleep) can come in many degrees of intensity just as the anesthetist can adjust his dosage to suit the needs of the situation.

The normal individual "enters" and "recovers" from sleep almost instantly. Sleep is a mental process. In its simplest terms, it might be likened to something no more complicated than the turning on and off of a common light switch.

"Sleep" and "rest" can be concurrent but not synonymous acts. Rest can come without sleeping but one cannot sleep without resting if rest is what is indicated by the body's needs. Your doctor says: "Mr. Doe, I want you to go home and get three days of bed rest." Your lawyer advises: "Mr. Doe, the issues are complex. Sleep on it tonight and let me know your decision tomorrow." Sleep serves a psychological need and not a biological one. Rest is physical. Sleep is mental. Cultivate and encourage your daydreams. They are the only dreams you'll ever have that really matter. Some of the world's greatest achievements came when man learned to pursue and realize his daytime dreams. Sleep dreams would prove to be random and meaningless.

If "sleep" has "recuperative" value, why do people drink literally millions of gallons of coffee, and other stimulants, in a sometimes desperate effort to waken and "get going" in the morning? Why do they "party" at night and never in the morning after its so-called benefit of eight hours of sleep? Why do people seldom engage in sex in the morning? Sleep can destroy 75% of all sex drive and is therefore of no benefit in animal procreation and reproduction. With this theoretical value gone, it leaves little else to justify the need for sleep. Sleep serves no evolutionary purpose other than to cope with the plague of night. The paradox is that sleep is not necessary, yet we require it.

Birds, for instance, engage in a constant search for food. Only darkness stops this pursuit. They are geared for "constant activity" and only lack of light stops this normal and daily quest. Chickens are falsely induced to enter the "roosting" mode by a complete eclipse of the sun.

The reasons and necessity for sleep are simple. The forces of evolution have simply "allotted" or "programmed" an adequate duration for sleep - usually about eight hours per day (enough to get one through the night). To some degree, sleep is elective but if the "allotment" is abused or misdirected, there is the obvious penalty to pay. Those persons unable (for whatever reason) to utilize this phenomenon, simply did not survive. To induce this necessary function of sleep, the activity became "pleasurable" similar to the sex act or the taking of food.

SLEEP may be defined as a pain and time erasing phenomenon in which conscious brain function ceases giving a temporary mental release from reality.


In Summation

Confronted with the phenomenon of long and unavoidable periods of total darkness, and as early animal life inevitably gained a state of evolutionary advance known as "consciousness", evolving and advanced organisms over countless periods of time adapted to these periods of darkness by entering into a form of "stupor". Since the light/dark pattern could never be changed, the subject organisms were obliged to adapt. This change came about possibly in the form of a mutation. Even today, we enter into a state of "unconsciousness" or "sleep" as it is known, as an evolutionary adaptation to cope with long periods of total darkness. Conversely, the miracle of sight (vision) is evolution's similar answer and adaptation to the phenomenon of sunlight with its inevitable display of brilliant light. Through these two instances of monumental adaptation, the forces of evolution have provided a mindless, but effective, answer to the eternal conditions of light and dark.

The phenomenon of total darkness has always been a plague to conscious and highly evolved organisms. One of our most effective and non-lethal punishments remains the combination of solitude, physical quarters of limited dimension, and total darkness with the "darkness" element being later banned by most civilizations as being overly barbaric.

The contention is that ancient organisms entered into a stupor or unconscious condition to escape the psychologically unbearable state of long periods of total darkness and not to "rest" the organs in a form of "recuperation". Then, once we adapted to the darkness by evolving "sleep", we now require it - but for reasons other than what we think.


"...And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep"

 Robert Frost



I, David Marshall Mooney, by my witnessed signature below, do attest that the foregoing document is an original work of my own inspiration and making. The maker further attests no knowledge of a similar or identical statement from any other source.












Prefatory note
. This paper is an original work by the author, David Marshall Mooney, and is notarized, copyrighted and registered in the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington DC. This document is further identified as "Adjunctive Addition to An Evolutionary Sleep Theory" (ISBN-0-9678222-5-4) One of the "gold standards" for learning is the anciently honored axiom "the key to learning is repetition". Some words and expressions in these papers are repeated in excess. This is done purposely so as to more forcefully entrench the principle.



As a prelude to this paper, I present the following points as either "irrefutably true" or "true by common sense reasoning and observation". The fossil record tells us little and the inability to do other relevant tests is obvious. Like any biologist (which I am not) I cannot, of course, scientifically verify some of the views by virtue of a simple test. As an adjunct to my proposition, "An Evolutionary Sleep Theory", I offer the following list of facts and premises:

1)  In this paper we submit that uninterrupted sleep is the first stage of a dying process (atrophy) and this general bodily "wasting" if not modified or attended in some beneficial way, is always terminal. The hibernating bear can "sleep" (atrophy/waste) for six months but cannot survive a twelve month period of this wasting inactivity.

2)  As a consequence of the "Big Bang" (for want of a better explanation) an earth was created that would later prove to be both receptive and habitable to all of the adaptive organisms that would inevitably follow. Indeed, one is tempted to speculate that brilliant sunlight, blazing through an atmosphere of unknown composition, was the catalytic energy that spawned the first synthesis of life on our planet.

3 Irrefutable physical characteristics and factors would result. The new planet would rotate in an unalterable pattern; it would orbit a sun; and it would have a measurable tilt on its axis. These physical traits are innate and can never be altered in any manner that we comprehend.

4 The cosmic laws just described, by their very nature, created long and alternating periods of semi/total darkness and equal periods of semi/total light. This pattern was the first and one of the most profound environmental phenomena with which primitive and future organisms would be obliged to cope.

5) We begin with the premise that organisms initially evolved as "instant response and continuous operating organic mechanisms" without "consciousness" or the provision for perceiving or responding to light. This primitive organism changed (evolved/adapted) so as to survive in an hostile environment with its adverse set of forces and circumstances.

6)  We must accept that the unchanging phenomenon of equally divided periods of day/night, light/dark would be the first and most profound challenge with which all later evolving organisms would have to cope. Temperature conditions could be modified and adapted to by myriad techniques but the phenomenon of the constant and predictable sequence of 12 hour dark and 12 hour light periods could not be changed at any place in the temperate zones of the earth. Evolving life would have to adapt to survive.

7)  Equally daunting for the earliest life on the planet, was the elements of food and water. Since organic compounds were clearly not available, early life was forced to subsist on substances such as oxygen or simple elemental compounds such as water.

8)  In its earliest life formation phase, the light/dark sequence is presumed to be of little consequence since early organisms in all probability lacked any mechanism for sight or any form of light perception. Sight was not a necessary function.

9)  At this point there is no need to attempt to trace or knit together the exact sequence of the evolution of organisms. What is of profound importance is that when the rudimentary light-perceiving ability (sight) first appeared in primitive organisms, it represented a giant evolutionary leap forward.

10)  I propose that the very ability to detect light (vision) came, in fact, as a direct evolutionary response to the constant and alternating phenomenon of total and utter darkness on the one hand followed by the equal phenomenon of brilliant sunlight that would inevitably follow. I contend that light perception (and vision as we know it) evolved as a natural evolutionary adaptation to the light/dark cycle. Of what benefit is light if one cannot use it? The tragedy of total blindness in humans (and other organisms) demonstrates the point.

11)  However long it took to evolve the light perception (vision) process, when it did become viable, it represented a remarkable advance in evolution. This slowly evolved ability gave organisms the ability to seek food, avoid predators, choose mates, etc. However, when the phenomenon of vision did become workable, it brought profound new evolutionary problems with it.

12)  When the twin elements of light perception and that state of animal evolution labeled as "consciousness" combined to form advanced animal life that could not only see but could analyze and comprehend what they saw, the spectre of 14 hours of total dark (night) in which no worthwhile activity could be performed, presented an agonizing and unacceptable evolutionary problem.

13)  We again ask the obvious question. Would not the evolutionary process be better served if the subject were to be able to enter into a harmless and merciful state that might be called "stuporous" or "unconscious" so as to safely and quickly pass through this 14 hour period of worthless and utter darkness? Such a mechanism would be mandatory if higher life were ever to psychologically cope with the trauma of total lack of light.

14)  In reality, of course, a condition exactly as described had already evolved in both higher and lower forms of life. Thus the forces of evolution had indeed provided a remarkably effective "escape" (sleep is an "escape" mechanism and not a "recuperative" one) mechanism but, by so doing, it presented yet another equally perplexing evolutionary problem. Could the forces of evolution provide yet another answer?

15)  The profound question now arises. What effect does a constantly alternating 8/14 hour down cycle followed by an 8/14 hour up cycle have on an organism that initially evolved as a potentially "constant use organism?" (see item #5)

16)  The answer is rather simple. It is well established that when a body or bodily component is subjected to periods of extended or total inactivity and food deprivation, it undergoes a process identified as "atrophy" or "wasting". Since "sleep" is clearly a condition of "wasting", evolution, then, must provide some form of regular cycle of "recuperation" or "rejuvenation" to counter this process.

17)  Our theory will revise or "upend" a substantial amount of contemporary thinking on the subject but at the same time will, in answer, propose a set of truths that cannot be rationally disputed.

18)  "Sleep", then, as we know it, represents the "escape" (from darkness) as well as the "atrophy/wasting" of which it is a natural part. The following day's physical activities represents the "rejuvenation/recuperation" phase of the process. In other words, the daily physical routine functions to counter or alleviate the "wasting" (atrophy) of the previous night's sleep. Rest and sleep are not synonymous functions.

19) In the normal and healthy individual, sleep is a pleasurable experience. It is similar to the food and sex drives but is vastly more potent and one over which the body has limited voluntary control. This sleep "pleasure" is an evolutionary device that serves to entice one into the "sleep/stupor/unconscious" state that, in turn, serves to lessen or nullify the nighttime period that constitutes the agony of 8/14 hours of total darkness. In cases where sleep has been wrongly or grossly denied, the urge to regain this lost sleep far exceeds that for either the food or sex drive. However strong, the sex drive remains "voluntary" or "elective" in nature.

20)  The greater question now arises. Why would evolution (in its apparent wisdom) condemn an "evolving" organism to enter a cycle that, by nature, involves a full 1/3 to 1/2 of his whole life (the sleep cycle) to "wasting"? But, herein, we have what we feel is a rational explanation. During nighttime, there is simply nothing else to do. The body has no choice but undergo this worthless and endless cycle and adapt a device for coping. Our subject, then, spends the following daytime "recuperating" from the inactivity or "sleep/atrophy" of the night before. This entire animal life cycle is mandated, and made inescapable, by the cosmic physical laws that cause the planet to rotate on its axis.

21)  However, if we hypothesize that the night part of the day/night cycle might abruptly and permanently end (that the earth could alter its spinning and we might be fortunate enough to be on the daylight side) and that we would then have the blessing of constant and everlasting sunlight, the forces of evolution would then evolve away (via adaptation) any need for the worthless phenomenon of sleep and we might thusly gain the obvious benefits that permanent daylight would bring. This evolutionary transformation would clearly take place over many centuries but there is absolutely no scientific or common sense reason to believe that this would not occur. There is no evolutionary need for sleep other than to avoid the plague of night.


Summary Notes

a) Argument is made that, initially, all organs of the body - if sufficiently supplied with oxygen - evolved for constant use. The human body, then, is potentially a "constant use mechanism". All organs of the body evolved for constant use. The heart is clearly geared for constant use and only a deprivation of oxygen can change its capacity. The so-called "sleeping" brain can be called into instant function and requires no prior conditioning or preparation. The brain, when adequately supplied with oxygen, is a "continuous function mechanism" and all other major bodily organs originally evolved with this innate ability. Do the kidneys sleep? Does the liver? Why is exercise so vitally important? Does it help to counter the effects of sleep?

b) In early animal life when "consciousness" became a factor, the primitive specimen did indeed enter into a reduced state of activity (sleep) in the nighttime. But did it originally evolve that way? Even contemporary (and wild) animal life is geared to respond in a manner to instantly and aggressively defend itself - day or night. If you disagree, try "petting" a wild and sleeping wolverine (carcajou). A "sleeping" carcajou is not "recuperating" but simply "escaping" the night. His "recuperation" will start the following day when his body is in a state of activity. Likewise, a hibernating bear is in a dying process until he exits his den in the spring.

c) But there is little point in pondering the sleep patterns in lower animals. They sleep for the identical reasons that make Homo sapiens sleep - to escape the unbearably long periods of total darkness. Total darkness is equivalent to total blindness. Even the keen-sighted nocturnal predators are utterly blind in complete darkness (with the exception of animal species like bats with different navigation systems).

d) Consider the apparently impossible performance of the long-distance endurance runner. He runs his "impossible" 28 miles. At the end he will probably just sit down to "rest".  He will not require a nights time of "sleep" to "recuperate". His recuperation will continue while he is active and then "atrophy" the coming night. (all this is dependent, of course, on the subject being in good health with superb circulation). The medical community has found that patients recover best when active.

e) Why do some healthy and normal individuals feel more vigorous, active, and alert just before retiring at night than they do on arising and after 8/10 hours of "sleep" (rest)? And why does the "arthritic" feel far worse and more painful upon arising than he did the night before? Sleep serves no evolutionary purpose other than as an "escape" mechanism.

f) Doctors will often inject drugs for the purpose of inducing "sleep" in an effort to combat grief, pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. The purpose is never to induce "rest" and/or "recuperation" but simply provide "escape" with the hopes that the patient might recover otherwise. Sleep is both a time and consciousness erasing phenomenon.

g) Consider a bedridden hospital patient. His serious condition allows very little motion and expenditure of energy during the daylight. He has "rested" the entire day. Regardless, that night he will enter into a full 8/10 hour "sleep" period even though the "sleep" will provide nothing more than an evolutionary "escape" device for coping with the long and unbearable 10 hour period of darkness that inevitably follows day.

h) It is proper to repeatedly emphasize that sleep is evolution's device to cope with the situations of unrelenting stress by erasing the condition of consciousness - or mental awareness.

i) This paper will not address or even attempt to define the chemical/electrical nature of the "sleep/brain" phenomenon (consciousness) but will rather endeavor to explain the cultural - and devilishly complex - hows, whys, and whens of the phenomenon referred to as "sleep", a process which, in turn, is caused by nothing more complicated - in its simplest aspects - than an evolving organism's adaptation to a planet rotating on its axis.



The Phenomenon might be condensed and somewhat summarized as follows:

The first primitive and ancient organisms evolved on planet earth without any semblance of sight or light perception. In all due time - and undergoing whatever evolutionary influences - our specimen gained the enigmatic gift of "consciousness" along with the equally enigmatic ability to perceive and comprehend light (sight/vision). At this point, he became aware of the fact that his existence was composed of a period in which he could perform useful tasks (light) and other periods in which he could not (dark).

This early and "conscious" animal was obliged to cope with 8/14 hours of total darkness with no reasonable source of artificial light. How to cope physically? How to cope mentally? The forces of evolution would provide an answer, but an answer so complex that it remains essentially misunderstood to this day. The answer, of course, is "sleep" which, by extension, is some form of "stupor/unconsciousness".

To better appreciate the "escape" element of sleep, consider the following hypothesis: An inmate is sentenced to a period of five days of punishment that will entail solitude, limited quarters, and total darkness. Of the 120 hours, only 40 will be spent in ordinary sleep. The remaining 80 hours will be spent awake and in complete darkness. Let us suppose that the inmate is somehow endowed with the inherent nature of the hibernating bear and can sleep the entire 120 hours. There is consequently no punishment and the extended sleep just might result in mild pleasure for the inmate. Extended darkness without sleep is unbearable. Extended darkness with sleep can be mildly pleasurable. If sleep were "painful", how would mothers ever get their children into bed at night?

Evolution, in its mindless majesty, has therefore managed to transform the worthless black of night into an acceptable - even enjoyable - part of the human experience by not only evolving the miracle of sleep but endowing it with the additional element of pleasure.

The "sleep" phenomenon, therefore, evolved simply as an "escape" device and not for the purpose of "recuperation" or "rejuvenation". To encourage early life to accept this "sleep" thing, it became mildly "pleasant" as previously indicated. Evolution would then program an adequate duration.

It is also well established that inactivity and food deprivation results (to whatever degree) in "atrophy/wasting" and the following daylight activities "recoups" the previous night's loss to "atrophy". Consequently, what originally evolved as a "constant motion organism" is, in fact, still that but the routine is forever and inexorably changed due to the endless dark/light cycle.

It would appear that the clinical study of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM has little relevance in sleep research since it is nothing more than a symptom of the unconscious state (sleep) and not the cause much the same as pain is a symptom of an injury but not the cause.

Adaptation is the single most important element in the process of evolution. Every single plant and animal species on earth is - or was, a product of its environment. Homo sapiens and other higher forms of animal life had to adapt to - and cope with - the two most profound and fundamental conditions that exist on our planet - the phenomena of utter darkness and the brilliant sunlight that would inevitably follow. We adapted to the light with the miracle of vision. Conversely, we adapted to the darkness by evolving an "escape" mechanism of unconsciousness (sleep). Thereafter, the light would forever manifest itself as a cherished gift and the darkness as a plague.

The act of deliberately sitting/standing/lying conscious and motionless in a totally dark environment for 14 hours is a maddening experience to contemplate and the evolutionary device for coping is the phenomenon we call "sleep". Sleep, then, evolved as an "escape" from the agony of 8/14 hours of utter darkness and serves no other evolutionary purpose. We evolved "sleep" for its "escape" value but now since it is so deeply ingrained in the animal life cycle process, we now believe that we require it for totally different and unrelated reasons.

A multiplicity of other factors entered the evolutionary mix, but now, due to the basic and somewhat chronological order previously mentioned, we are obliged to say that this eternal and unchangeable dilemma of the "light/dark" cycle - and our adaptation to it - is simply because our planet turns on an axis.

I am David Marshall Mooney. It was nice that we could ponder together one of the most remarkable and fundamental of natures gifts. For a new appreciation of the merciful nature of sleep, all we need is an open mind.



I, David Marshall Mooney, by my witnessed signature below, do attest that the foregoing document is an original work of my own inspiration and making. The maker further attests no knowledge of a similar or identical statement from any other source.

copyright Sleep Theory - David Marshall Mooney