Can the "Body Clock" Help Cure Sleep Disorders?

by Kristina Brooks Editor

Researchers say sleep disorders caused by disruption to the body’s internal clock may be treated by targeting a specific internal “clock protein,” based on a new study in Nature Communications__.

Known as a circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock regulates the behavioral and mental changes within the 24 hours we divide between being asleep and awake. This cycle uses light, sleep, and food to release and restrain chemical reactions that signal when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

A research team at St. Louis University monitored an internal “clock protein” in mice, called REV-ERB, after altering it with a synthetic drug (SR9011). All the mice had dysfunctional circadian rhythms and displayed anxious behavior. The researchers found when the gene that produced the protein was removed, the mice became arrhythmic. Once the drug switched the production of REV-ERB on, it altered their rhythm by increasing wakefulness and reducing REM (dreaming) sleep.

The topic of sleep has been one of great discussion in the recent months, and rightfully so. There has been a large amount of sleep-related research on how disrupting your sleep also disrupts your health. In an age of growing technology, it is no surprise that studies have shown the blue light emitted from many electronics used around bedtime not only decreases quality of sleep, but reduces the amount of time children sleep at night. Other recent studies have found that poor sleep may be connected to dementia, hypertension, depression and mood, and may even contribute to childhood obesity.

Yet even with all the research, those with sleep disorders have been left without a path to a cure. It is estimated that between 50 and 70 million people chronically suffer from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Those who are diagnosed may turn to sleep aids or practices to help their sleeping habits, but scientists still have not figured out what is responsible for the disordered sleep in the first place.

Understanding REV-ERB proteins that work with our body clock to increase wakefulness, and reduce REM and slow-wave sleep may help to create sleep-wake patterns that can cure sleep disorders. It may also help in regulating the onset of mental illness--new reports that decreased REM and slow-wave sleepmay precede dementia in older adults. Researchers added the REV-ERB drug was unique in that it increased wakefulness without stimulating anxiety. Unlike current stimulant drugs, targeting REV-ERB proteins in the future may help solve sleep issues without triggering unwanted side effects.


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Kristina Brooks
Meet Our Writer
Kristina Brooks

Kristina Brooks was a digital editor at HealthCentral with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. She helped launch HealthCentral's inaugural MythWeek.