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In dungeons and dragons, elves rest through a process called reverie which is similar to human sleep. They sit cross legged and go into a meditative state. Muscles relax, breathing slows, and the brain goes into a REM state. However, they remain conscious. They can still communicate and are completely aware of their surroundings.

How would this form of rest be explained? What biological processes would need to be present in order to make this work?

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    $\begingroup$ This form of rest is best explained as magic. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Aug 31 '18 at 0:23
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Like dolphins do

Dolphins have Unihemispheric slow wave sleep. That means that only one half of the brain is sleeping at the same time. In that way, they are able to maintain conscience during their "rest time". With a bit of handwavium/evolution, you could easily make this process a bit more efficiently, like splitting the sleep time into 4 brain hemispheres instead of 2...

Also, it doesn't need necessary to shut down a part of the brain. Several species, especially fishes, just slow down their metabolism (and brain activity) reducing a bit their activity

Even, some fishes like sharks can't sleep. They are able to store the memories gathered during the day without sleep. Note that sharks live in very "boring" areas, where there is very low activity, which means very low sensorial input => fewer things to memorize. If elves live in very "boring"/low-activity zones they could use this way. While sharks are "storing" or "saving" the gathered information during the day, the use to "shutdown" they sensorial input, to let brain work better.

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The annoying thing about sleeping is that when you sleep, you are defenseless. Some places, like the ocean, are bad places to be defenseless in.[citation needed]

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/fish-sleep.html

Fish don’t sleep like humans do. They need to stay alert like humans do when awake, or they get gobbled up by predators. So they reduce their metabolism but keep their brain alert. It is conceivable that your elves can evolve this, too.

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