New research from the University of Wisconsin and published in the May 16, 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience shows that a gene that controls the flow of potassium into cells is required to maintain normal sleep in fruit flies. Hyperkinetic (Hk) is the second gene to be identified as one that is responsible for sleep in the fruit fly.
It appears that without open potassium channels, you do not get slow wave sleep. Remember, slow wave sleep is the most refreshing sleep you can get. According to the article, these researchers are now looking for compounds (i.e., medicines) that can regulate the Hk gene by affecting the potassium that enters a cell, which might be able to help people avoid insomnia.
So who cares how a fruit fly gets deep sleep, you ask? Well...
Cirelli and her colleagues believe that the new fly findings have clear and strong implications for human sleep since all mammals have similar potassium-controlling genes. Like humans, fruit flies generally are quiet and immobile for between six and 12 hours each night and lose most of their ability to respond to stimuli; sleep-deprived humans and their winged counterparts rebound on the following night by sleeping longer and more deeply; and as with humans, flies sleep more in their youth than later in life, when their sleep is fragmented.
In addition it was found that those flies with damaged Hk (so they were short sleepers) also showed memory deficits. The scientists' theory is that during a normal day we have a build-up of synapses with each new piece of information or experience. Sleep appears to allow us to regulate these synapses, or make room for new ones, since the brain cannot handle an unending supply.
So will eating more bananas really give better sleep? While that type of potassium is not what was implicated in this study, it probably can't hurt. Just don't eat the whole bunch.