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You’re likely aware of the importance of sleep and how lack of sleep negatively affects your health. But do you know how to maximize the amount of sleep you get? Some simple tips include following a specific sleep schedule, limiting light exposure before sleep, and staying relaxed and stress-free. Such strategies may be effective most of the time, but they do not directly take into account the mechanisms that cause people to awake or stay asleep. Such mechanisms have largely gone undetected by researchers and those that have been discovered have yet to be fully understood. In a recent study, researchers found a pathway that may be used to understand what causes one to wake up from sleep.

 Man jolted awake unexpectedly.

Image Source: David Zach

Researchers from the University of Bern have identified a new brain circuit between the hypothalamus and the thalamus. The study was conducted on mice and aimed to obtain a better understanding of sleep cycles. This brain circuit had important consequences associated with its activated and inhibited states. Specifically, activation of the circuit resulted in rapid wakefulness. Conversely, inhibition of the circuit led to a deeper state of sleep. They found that the rapid wakefulness that resulted from activation of the circuit was strong enough to bring individuals out of anesthesia and regain consciousness. Although the potential applications such as being able to induce wakefulness in a patient after a surgical procedure is completed are clear, the researchers acknowledge that much more work needs to be done before they can become reality.

In addition to the significant clinical implications, the results of this study may be useful for understanding sleep cycles. Lack of sleep is often detrimental and has become an increasingly prevalent problem in society due to overall increases in stress levels as well as availability of products that enable people to disturb their own sleep cycles. However, solving the mystery behind how the brain causes us to sleep and awake will help us to develop effective tools for treating sleep disorders.

Feature Image Source: Sleeping by Alon Banks

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