Researchers have found the “sleep switch” that could help insomniacs sleep better and enhance the internal reward system as a way of maintaining well rested and functioning properly when awake.
Medical experts from Stanford University have finally found the circuit that connects the sleep and wake cycle in humans brains, becoming useful knowledge for those who have trouble sleeping getting a better scientific understanding of how this cycle works.
According to the U.S National Institutes of Health, around 25 to 30 percent of American citizens tend to suffer from a form of sleep deprivation and often opt for sleep pills and drugs to help them with the problem. The recent study hopes to provide relevant information on the subject and aid patients.
“This has a potential huge clinical relevance, insomnia; a multibillion-dollar market has traditionally been treated with drugs that shut down the entire brain. Now there’s the possibility of targeting the newly identified circuit,” said co-author and psychiatry professor, Luis de Lecea.
The research team was led by Alda Eban-Rothschild a Ph.D. from Standford along with de Lecea a and a team of researchers aiming to have a better understanding of the subject.
Understanding the brain circuit
Researchers based their findings on study’s made on mice, the team, dedicated the study to understanding the sleep-wake cycle of the animals that have the same reward system that humans.
Humans have something called the ventral tegmental area or VTA, that helps everyone to perform actions depending on their needs, for example, look for food, have sex or be aware and cautious about predators.
The reward system is also one of the key components of the brain, it’s found in animals and humans and is triggered by a chemical in the brain called dopamine, that’s activated when we are in love or by hard drugs. Researchers discovered this system was linked to the same circuit to the sleep-wake cycle.
The discovery made sense to scientists who claim if the system and the cycle weren’t connected humans will be waking up in the middle of the night craving food or to fill their necessities and wouldn’t be allowed of good night sleep.
The mice were studied carefully by scientists who observed the animals brain circuit seemed to decrease when they were about to fall asleep but activated on their daily activities.
That means the brain reduces its need or desire of doing and performing actions before going to sleep; that makes it easier for the person to lay down and have a quiet night. The next day the circuit is filled with energy to perform tasks and everyday activities.
The research that was published in the journal Natur Neuroscience suppressed and aroused this circuit on the mice to evaluate its behavior. It turns out, that when researchers deemed down the circuit, the animals began creating a nest to fall asleep in and didn’t seem bothered by the smell of food, females or fox urine that activates their caution system.
However, when scientists activated the circuit, the animals acted full of energy and stayed awake for extended periods of time. The discovery has the science world excited since it could mean a better form of sleep-help for those who suffer from insomnia.
“Now we see the possibility of developing therapies that, by narrowly targeting this newly identified circuit, could induce much higher-quality sleep,” said lead author of the study
The research also made more clear to scientists, why does using smartphones, computers or video games at night make it harder for people to fall asleep. Since the brain is being triggered and excited of various emotions that disrupt the circuit’s natural cycle.