Found: The Key to Waking/Sleeping
Maybe you saw it in a science fiction movie. Or maybe you thought of it yourself while you were staring at the ceiling at 3 am wondering if that fried chicken lurking in the fridge was still edible: Wouldn’t it be great if there were a switch in our brains that could take us in and out of sleep at the exact times we desired?
Well, there’s not -- yet. But we may be on that path, because researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have uncovered a neurobiological pathway that plays a key role in falling asleep and waking up.
The study suggests that BK channels in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) -- in the hypothalamus of the brain -- regulate the "switch" between sleep and wakefulness. BK channels are responsible for conducting electrical current, enabling communication between brain cells. For some people, circadian rhythm (body clock) is out of sync, which can lead to insomnia, jet lag, seasonal affective disorder, and many sleep-related disorders.
The study team analyzed the SCN of mice to see if BK channels in the SCN play a role in circadian rhythm. The sleep pattern of mice is opposite to that of humans; they sleep during the day but stay awake at night.
Investigators found that an inactive daytime BK channel triggered higher neuronal activity in the SCN of mice, which led to sleep. However, an active nighttime BK channel reduced neuronal activity, triggering wakefulness.
It’s believed that this study is the first to show that inactivation of BK channels is key for encoding the brain's circadian rhythm, regulating sleep-wake cycles.
So you may continue taking late-night refrigerator inventories for now, but the nights of sweet, sweet sleep may be on the horizon.