Could Your Sleeping Pill Keep You From Hearing a Fire Alarm?

iStock

Results of a study conducted in Japan suggest that laboratory mice given an experimental hypnotic drug to promote sleep wake up as fast as drug-free mice in a potentially threatening environment, and they return to sleep as quickly as those given standard sleeping pills after the perceived threat.

Why is this significant? Some sleeping pills can impair your ability to wake up in response to potentially threatening sensory information processed by our brains during sleep, such as the smell of smoke or the sound of a fire alarm. In a clinical trial, half of human participants taking a commonly prescribed class of sleeping pills called benzodiazepines for insomnia (Dalmane, Restoril, Doral, or Halcion) slept right through a fire alarm. According to the Japanese researchers, the experimental drugs, called dual orexin receptor antagonists (DORAs), target the brain’s sleep/wake pathway more selectively than benzodiazepines and produce less of a hangover effect. That is, they’re less likely to affect abilities like driving the morning after they’re used.

In this study, which was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, one group of mice was given a dual orexin receptor antagonist, one group was giving a benzodiazepine, and another group was given a placebo (the control group). After one to four hours, the sleeping mice were exposed to a threatening noise, action, or smell of a predator. The mice that were given the DORA woke as quickly as the mice in the control group and returned to sleep as quickly as the group given a benzodiazepine. The mice given a benzo drug were significantly slower than the other two groups to wake up in response to the perceived threat.

Sourced from: Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience