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Did we just discover the brain’s secret sleep switch?

We cycle between 2 basic sleep states when we sleep; rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).

Non-rapid eye movement sleep includes the deep sleep (or slow-wave) sleep stages.

Scientists recently set out to discover whether nerves in our brainstem that are suspected of promoting slow-wave sleep are able to actually initiate and maintain slow-wave sleep.

Researchers used a virus to insert genes into the neurons of a lower brainstem region in mice that then produced a receptor that researchers could switch on and off, causing the cells in that region to fire.

They found that switching on the receptor initiated slow-wave sleep in mice, regardless of the time of day.

When the neurons were activated, researchers found they released GABA (a neurotransmitter thought to be important for regulating our sleep-wake cycles) into neighboring neurons.

Although much more research is needed to better understand how this region of our brain works and how it influences sleep, perhaps one day it will lead to new treatment options for those with sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Source: Nature Neuroscience

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Last updated: December 4, 2014

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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