Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could flip a switch when you climbed into bed at night and instantly fall asleep? No more tossing and turning over that nasty problem at the office or the credit card bill that came in the mail or your child’s less than stellar report card. Flick a switch and your brain would empty of all those nagging problems that keep you from falling into dreamland at night.
For some time, researchers have been searching for a “sleep switch” that could unlock the mysteries of why we need to sleep and why sleep sometimes eludes us. Considered the Holy Grail of sleep research, discovery of a sleep switch has the potential to put an end to the insomnia and other sleep problems that prevent one in three Americans from getting a good night’s sleep.
It’s too early to set aside your relaxation exercises and warm milk, but researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom may be on to something. In studies with fruit flies, British researchers have identified specific molecules that appear to tell the brain when we’re tired and need to sleep. The new research, recently published in Neuron, builds on an earlier fruit fly study by Washington State University researchers published in Science that claimed to have discovered the “sleep switch.” That study identified a group of neurons in the brain that may control when we fall asleep and when we wake up.
The question you’re probably asking is: How can what happens in the miniscule brain of a tiny fruit fly apply to our far larger and more complex human brains? It’s a fair question, but scientists have found some surprising similarities between fruit fly and human brains. Researchers hunting for the sleep switch have found a bundle of neurons in the human brain that is similar to the bundle that appears to control fruit fly sleep – and they believe that it may function the same way in humans as it does in flies.
If eventual human testing (still years away) proves these findings true, falling asleep could some day actually be as easy as flipping a switch. Until then, Master Your Sleep can give you the information and tools you need to conquer your sleep problems. Click here to find out more.