Researchers from the University of Oxford have discovered how certain neurons control when we go to sleep. The biology behind it involves an ion channel that reacts to the ‘happy chemical’ dopamine, changing places in the neurons.
Sleep is essential to health, with the Center for Disease Control even calling insufficient sleep a public health problem. However, there’s still much to be understood regarding how and why we sleep – and how to use such knowledge for more effective therapies.
A part of this puzzle was now found by researchers of the University of Oxford, at its Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (CNCB). In research now published in Nature, the team shed light on a less-studied mechanism to control sleep – the sleep homeostat.
It’s well-understood how the brain keeps track of when it’s better for us to sleep (through the circadian clock), but how the sleep homeostat controls why we need to sleep is still a mystery.