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Single control center in brain controls both sleep, wake: study
Last Updated: 2018-06-15 13:15 | Xinhua
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Swiss researchers have recently identified one single control center for the sleep-wake cycle in the brain, which would be of great importance for finding new sleep therapies, according to the University of Bern on Thursday.

The single control area, which is called the thalamus, was previously known to be important for sleep quality, but consensus was that the impulses for falling asleep and waking up took place in separate regions of the brain.

The thalamus, located between the cortex and the brainstem, is a linking region that also plays a role in processing sensory input and organizing cognition and consciousness. It is connected to practically all other regions in the brain.

In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Bern have used optogenetic techniques to activate brain neurons with light impulses, and found that a small group of neurons in this area produces long waves that can help with falling asleep, while the same neurons also produce the "signal" to wake up, according to a press release from the university.

This is the first time that an area of the brain has been found to have both sleep and wake promoting functions. The researchers are now able to show that suppression of thalamic neuronal activity impaired the recovery from sleep loss, suggesting that these neurons are essential for a restful sleep after extended period of being awake.

The findings of this study are particularly important in a modern world, where the active population sleeps about 20 percent less than 50 years ago and suffers from chronic sleep disturbances, the study suggested.

People frequently work irregular hours and rarely catch up on lost sleep, and poor sleep is increasingly linked to a multitude of psychiatric diseases and weakens the immune system.

The researchers believe that uncovering the control mechanisms of thalamic neurons during sleep and wake will be key to finding new sleep therapies in an increasingly sleep deprived society.

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