Insomnia sufferers might soon have a more natural solution to their nighttime woes according to researchers at the Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. A ScienceDaily article recently reported on these researchers' study about how we fall into deep sleep.
Apparently in our brainstem, the oldest part of the brain, is a "sleep node" that can induce deep sleep. The parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem is responsible for "half of all of the brain's sleep-promoting activity," according to this study, and appears to be the center of other important life functions as well like breathing and heart rate which emphasizes how important sleep is for our health.
It is specifically a neuron responsible for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that the Harvard and Buffalo researchers focused on for their study. They discovered that they can use a sort of remote control to turn the neurons on and off like you would a light switch by introducing a virus that only affected the GABA neurons. The hope is that this will replace electrical stimulation which tends to stimulate the whole region of the brain and not just that particular node.
During their study, the researchers found that by turning on these neurons, their animal subjects would fall into a deep sleep without any artificial sleeping aids. More work needs to be done to discover how the PZ interacts with other parts of the brain, but the hope is that this research will lead to better treatments for insomnia and other sleep disorders as well as safer anesthetics for when people undergo surgery.