Scientists Pinpoint The Brain's 'Sleep Switch'


Scientists may have found the sleep "switch" that tells the brain it's time to shut those eyes, according to a new Neuron study in fruit flies.

The researchers, from Oxford University's Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, found that this "switch" regulates activity of neurons in the brain that are known to promote sleep, by having them fire them up when a person is tired, and then having the neurons calm down when a person is rested.

Even though the study was conducted in fruit flies, the findings should also be relevant to humans, as "there is a similar group of neurons in a region of the human brain," study researcher Dr. Jeffrey Donlea said in a statement. "These neurons are also electrically active during sleep and, like the flies' cells, are the targets of general anaesthetics that put us to sleep. It's therefore likely that a molecular mechanism similar to the one we have discovered in flies also operates in humans."

Researchers explained that there are two mechanisms that work together to tell a body it's time to sleep. The first is the 24-hour circadian clock, which tells the body when it's night and day.

The second is similar to a temperature thermostat for sleep, or a "homeostat" -- a mechanism in the brain that is aware of how long the body has been awake and when it's time to sleep."'The body clock says it's the right time, and the sleep switch has built up pressure during a long waking day," study researcher Professor Gero Miesenböck said in a statement.

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