Researchers have discovered a brain circuit responsible for waking up a person.
Studies have dealt with sleep, its effects and how much we need per night. Also any negative effects from a lack of it have been explored in depth.
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But what exactly this thing called sleep is, remains to this day a mystery. To get more of it is a must these days when so many of us office workers face an ever-increasing sleep debt. What remained unknown until now was how the brain controlled the sleep-wake cycle.
But all that has changed with the times. Neuroscientists found patterns in brain signals that were responsible for making us blink our eyelids and wake up from sleep and anesthesia.
The discovery of this new network is very important. When the circuit was activated that was responsible for sleeping, a person woke up. This area lies between the hypothalamus and the thalamus.
Dampening this region caused the person to be overcome by sleep. Scientists employed a technique known as optogenetics. The subjects were lab mice. Light-reactive genes were slotted into the neurons of the rodents and activated via light signals.
When the neurons were activated, the rodents awakened from their sleep states. When stimulated for a long enough period, the mice remained awake even longer, according to HuffingtonPost.
But when the neuronal circuitry was inhibited, the mice went to sleep and remained asleep for a long time. These mice slept despite being interrupted time after time. They were like zombies.
Furthermore, when the circuitry was activated, the mice woke up even though they were under the influence of anesthesia. This study has exciting implications since it could help in finding cures for such conditions as insomnia and narcolepsy.
Insomnia is when you just cannot get to sleep and even if you do, it is dissatisfying. Narcolepsy is when you fall asleep at the slightest pretext even during your normal waking hours.
The procedures that were used could also wake someone up from a trance or fugue state. And one dares say that it could possibly lead to methods of reviving people from a comatose state.
This is almost where science meets science fiction. Bringing people back from vegetative states is the stuff of which dreams are made of. The limits are there but mankind’s capabilities exceed these limitations.
It is glitches in brain circuitry that are responsible for problems in the sleep-wake cycle. And these minor problems can be fixed now that we know the triggering factors.
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The study was published on December 21 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.