AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Sleep (Page 1 of 2)

Pick Me Up… Or Put Me Down

We all know those mornings. You stayed up too late studying, playing video games, or binging your favorite series. You wake up drowsy and distressed, then remember you have a test today. For a moment you panic, but you quickly realize you have the luxury of indulging in a hot cup of coffee. Your preconceived impression is that the coffee will cure your exLatte and dark coffeehaustion– it’s almost too good to be true. Suddenly, you notice that you have become reliant on a beverage to take the place of quality sleep several days a week. But is this notion accurate? How well can caffeine mask a lack of sleep

The reason people feel drowsy at any time of the day is due to a buildup of adenosine in the bloodstream. Adenosine is produced when the body consumes its central energy source (ATP). Adenosine in the bloodstream binds to adenosine receptors. Once bound, these receptors trigger a release of proteins that inhibit neuron activity, leading to drowsiness. 

Caffeine’s solution to the abundance of adenosine acts as a temAdenosinporary patch-up. Caffeine has the ability to block adenosine receptors, therefore preventing adenosine from causing drowsiness. The problem, however, is that caffeine does not stay bound to adenosine receptors for very long, so tiredness will likely kick in at some point later in the day. Since caffeine is just “patching up” the problem, it will never be nearly as effective as sleep which allows for the breakdown of adenosine. 

I have noticed the effects of caffeine are much greater later in the day compared to consuming it in the morning. This is because caffeine tends to raise cortisol levels. Upon waking up, cortisol levels are already high. It is also the case that adenosine levels grow as the day progresses. These two factors explain why caffeine has stronger effects later in the day. There is a more drastic change caused by caffeine on cortisol levels and the “control” of free adenosine. 

I found the process of caffeine binding to adenosine receptors to relate to our cell communication unit. When caffeine enters the bloodstream, it acts as a competitive inhibitor by preventing adenosine from binding. A competitive inhibitor takes the place of a substrate in an enzyme directly at the active site. This prevents a chemical reaction from occurring. In this case, caffeine is blocking a receptor that causes drowsiness when activated. If caffeine is blocking it, adenosine which would have caused drowsiness is unable to attach to the receptor. If the adenosine were to attach to this receptor, it would trigger a signal that is sent through neurons to cause the sensation. 

Next Time You Think Losing An Hour Or Two Of Sleep Won’t Hurt… Think Again.

We’ve all been there. It’s a busy week, it’s getting late, and you’re tired, but you still have a lot to do for tomorrow.

A Cartoon Man Sleeping At Work

You convince yourself that if you sacrifice your sleep during the week and make it up on the weekend everything will be okay. Right? Well, unfortunately, according to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, quite the opposite is true.

Research completed by Mount Sinai Hospital demonstrates that reducing the amount of sleep you get each night can lead to an increased risk of inflammatory disorders and heart disease. The researchers monitored 14 healthy adults that normally sleep 8 hours a night and had them sleep 6-7 hours for 6 weeks. They then drew and analyzed their blood, finding an increased number of immune cells, many of which did not function properly to protect against infections. An increased number of immune cells may seem beneficial, but in reality, if the number gets too high, immune cells can overreact and create inflammation. The DNA structure of the cells was also altered, which provides evidence for their decreased ability to defend against illnesses.

The researchers continued the study with testing on mice and found that even after having sleep recovery time, the mice still had changes in their immune system. The mice’s immune cells were rewired and reprogrammed to function under the stresses of having disrupted sleep, producing more white blood cells, which put the mice at a greater risk of having inflammation or a disease. These results serve as evidence to prove that sleep recovery cannot reverse the effects of lack of sleep.

Diagram of a white blood cell CRUK 028

The cells experience this change due to limited time to repair injured cells. As we sleep, our bodies turn their attention to our immune system, repair damaged cells, and release growth hormones. When we have disrupted or limited sleep, our bodies are not able to carry out these functions, causing greater susceptibility to health problems. It is important that our cells are able to complete their tasks, and it’s even more important that we can remove and replace cells that cannot. As we learned in AP Biology, the lysosome plays a major role in helping damaged cells perform apoptosis (programmed cell death). If our bodies are not given the time to carry out apoptosis and replace old damaged cells with new immune cells, our bodies are at greater risk for metabolic abnormalities and replication errors, connecting sleep deprivation to disease risk. So the next time you’re thinking of sacrificing sleep to do work, I hope you remember the health consequences and reconsider your decision 🙂


Secure Passcodes : Not Just For Your Computer… But For Your Gut

What is the Human Gut Microbiome?

Human gut microbiomes are made up of all the bacteria present in your gut. The Bacteria in your gut outnumbers the cells by a ratio of 10 to 1. While the presence of that much bacteria sounds like a bad thing, it can be confirmed that “the gut microbiome is very important for human health—that much we certainly know”.  The nearly 100 billion Bacteria cells per gram are actually what helps the body digest food and remove the bacteria that is bad for your gut.


(Left) Bacteria on vs not on the intestines       (Right) Gut Microbiome Graphic

A Unique Passcode

As said above, the human gut microbiome is essential to digesting food but more importantly keeping our body healthy. The thought of controlling a person’s gut bacteria in order to keep them healthy and fight illness is fascinating to scientists. The key to using the microbiome to fight sickness is in the “passcode” that is essential to unlocking its potential. Each microbe, according to recent research, requires a unique passcode. The research done by scientists according to says that once there is a way to determine the “passcode” it will unlock a whole new world of probiotic treatment in the future.

Why Else is the Microbiome important

According to other research done within the past few years, it has been found that sleep can also be linked to the human gut and stomach. The quality of sleep a person gets can be linked to their “biological rhythms, immune function, and nutrient metabolism” however it is still unknown to what extent the microbiome is affecting human sleep.


While researchers still have many questions about the human gut microbiome and how it contributes to health, wellness, and overall human biology, once they have come to some more concrete conclusions the impacts of controlling the bacteria in the human gut would exponentially improve the health of many people. It may sound weird that your bacteria have a “passcode” with which to be controlled, but hey, conclusive findings of the microbiome could even help you get a better night’s sleep! And who doesn’t want that?

A Gene Mutation that Keeps You Awake and Functioning for Longer


Could a gene mutation really allow someone to finish college in two and a half years? The answer is yes! We all wish we could get by a function perfectly, or even better than normal, on less sleep. This is a reality for some, specifically people with a rare gene mutation. I saw an article titled, “Why Do Some People Need Less Sleep? It’s in their DNA,” and I thought this was a rather interesting topic, because I have never heard of less sleep ever being a positive thing. I am interested to see more research on this, and the possibility of it being an added benefit for others. It prompted me to think about whether or not this is something I would want, considering some of the implications. 

People with this gene mutation can get significantly less sleep than recommended for function, as little as three to four hours—without suffering any health consequences and while actually performing on memory tests as well as, or better than, most people. There is now a new study correlating to a new genetic mutation found with these “powers,” after previous studies revealed other types of mutations that may impact sleep.



To understand this rare ability when presented to them, scientist Ying-Hui Fu and her team, at the University of California, San Francisco, in 2009, began this study on some individuals, but also on mice, to simulate a similar sleep equilibrium to humans. After a woman came in claiming she was functioning at a high level on very short sleep time, scientists needed to understand, as lack sleep is typically correlates with health issues such as risk of heart attack, cancer, or even Alzheimer’s. They initially found a small mutation in the DEC2 gene, a transcriptional repressor (hDEC2-P385R) that is associated with a human short sleep phenotype. According to UCSF, DEC2 helps regulate “circadian rhythms, the natural biological clock that dictates when hormones are released and influences behaviors such as eating and sleeping. This gene oscillates this particular c schedule: rising during the day, but falling at night.” The newer study reveals that the DEC2 gene lowers your level of alertness in the evening by binding to and blocking MyoD1, a gene that turns on orexin production, a hormone involved in maintaining wakefulness. Fu says the mutation seen in human short sleepers weakens DEC2’s ability to put the breaks on MyoD1, leading to more orexin production and causing the short sleepers to stay awake longer.


In a new study, released on October 16, 2019, by Science Translational Medicine brought on by a mother and daughter duo, mice were studied again to mimic the human sleep pattern. The mice again required less sleep, and were able to remember better. In the study, researchers identified a point mutation in the neuropeptide S receptor 1 (NPSR1) gene responsible for the short sleep phenotype. The mutation increased receptor sensitivity to the exterior ligand, and mice with the mutation displayed increased mobility time and reduced sleep duration. Even more interestingly, the animals were resistant to cognitive impairment induced by sleep deprivation. The results and findings in the study point to NPSR1 playing a major role in sleep-related memory consolidation. NSPR1 is a gene that codes for a brain receptor that controls functions in sleep behaviour and awakeness. In the new study, when mice were given this gene mutation, there were no obvious health, wellness, or memory issues over time. Although the family members did not appear to experience any of the negative effects of sleep deprivation, the researchers make sure to emphasize that longer term studies would be needed to confirm these findings.


In the future, a possible drug could be produced to synthesize a change in one of these genes, as a possible treatment for insomnia or other sleep disorders. We would need a lot more research about their functions, though, because of possible negative neurological side effects. 

If a medication with these powers were to exist, do you think it would cause social issues regarding some  possibly forcing certain individuals to take it to work longer hours/get more done? Do you think that it should be available to everyone, or only people with certain conditions? Comment about this below. 


A Good Night’s Rest is More Important than We Thought: Decreased Slow-Wave Sleep Linked with Alzheimer’s Disease

Whether it be a quick nap or a nighttime full of sleep, I love sleep. However, with a busy schedule and tons of commitments, I find myself prioritizing these events over my own rest. How much do these short-term habits affect your long-term health?

It has been noted that poor sleep is a telltale symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, people tend to wake up tired and their sleep becomes less refreshing. But, is unclear how and why restless nights are linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis may have discovered part of the explanation.

Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5.7 million Americans, and the brain changes appear slowly and silently. Up to two decades before the characteristic signs of memory loss and confusion appear, amyloid beta protein begins to build up into plaques in the brain. The brain protein tau appear later, then atrophy of the key brain areas next. It is after all of these internal and unnoticeable changes that people start to show unmistakable symptoms of cognitive decline. But, what if there were a way to find the symptoms earlier?

The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that older people who have less slow-wave sleep, the deep sleep your body needs to consolidate memories and wake up feeling energized, have higher levels of the brain protein tau. Elevated levels of it has been linked to brain damage and cognitive decline, such as in Alzheimer’s. The relationship between sleep, the tau protein, and Alzheimer’s marks great strides in diagnosing and helping patients with the disease. Brendan Lucey, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center believes that “measuring how people sleep may be a noninvasive way to screen for Alzheimer’s disease before or just as people begin to develop problems with memory and thinking.”

Decreased slow-wave sleep and increased production of the tau and amyloid proteins have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study examined 119 people 60 years of age or older. Researchers monitored the participants’ sleep through a portable EEG monitor that strapped to their foreheads to measure brain waves, as well as a wristwatch-like sensor that tracked body movements. Participants also kept sleep logs, making note of both nighttime sleep and daytime naps. Additionally, researchers measured levels of amyloid beta and tau in the brain and spinal fluid. The results found that decreased slow-wave sleep coincided with higher levels of tau and amyloid. Lucey remarked that “the key is that it wasn’t the total amount of sleep that was linked to tau, it was the slow-wave sleep, which reflects quality of sleep. The people with increased tau pathology were actually sleeping more at night and napping more in the day, but they weren’t getting as good quality sleep.” In fact, daytime napping was significantly associated with high levels of tau.

This newfound information concludes that sleep monitoring may be an easy and affordable way to screen earlier for Alzheimer’s disease. Doctor’s may be able to ask a simple question: “How much do you nap during the day?” to identify people who could benefit from further testing. Overall, this study shows that regardless if you have Alzheimer’s or not, it is important to get enough slow-wave, deep sleep, or else you may reap the consequences later in life.

A New Way to Study Sleep Disorders

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, all of your body’s processes are driven on the day- to- day cycle of your “body clock”, more scientifically known as your circadian rhythm. Regulating the activation of about 40 percent of our genes, the circadian rhythm orchestrates bodily patterns such as hunger, alertness, and body temperature that drive our daily activities to maintain homeostasis. Almost all of the human cellular processes are carefully harmonized in this way by a small portion of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which controls levels of hormones that induce the sleep/wake cycle. Although necessary for our survival, this sequence of hormones can considerable trouble when that clock does not coincide with the clock on the wall, often resulting in sleep disorders.

Recent studies have led scientists towards much more efficient methods to test for and understand the circadian rhythms of those with sleep disorders. In the past, an extensive exam would require numerous blood and saliva samples taken over the course of several hours in low- light conditions. However, more recent studies have settled upon a much simpler test for biological time that can be integrated into routine checkups.

The new approach measures cyclic fluctuations in RNA levels in the blood that would indicate circadian activation of genes. Specifically, the test analyzes monocytes, a specific type of white blood cell that displays a strong circadian cycle in its abundance in the bloodstream. By analyzing the oscillations of a patient’s monocyte levels doctors can more easily identify where and how their circadian rhythm is irregular, and consequently come to more effective treatment.

Hopefully this more common method of detecting circadian irregularities can lead to development in treatment for sleep disorders as well as approaching more common sleep issues such as jet lag.

You’re a Jerk!!!

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night because you felt like you were falling?? What about waking up from sudden muscle spasms you’ve experienced in your sleep?? If you answered yes to either or both questions, that means you’ve experienced a hypnagogic jerk!

A term referencing to the period between wakefulness and sleep, called the hypnagogic state, hypnagogic jerks are involuntary muscle spasms that occur during light sleeping. These jerks are also known as ‘sleep starts’ and effect 70% of the population. Some factors scientists know to cause and increase the amount of twitches one can experience are high caffeine intake, stress, fatigue, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and intense activity and exercise right before sleep. Additionally, it is surmised that these spasms can also be induced by sound, light, and other external factors.

In a recent study, different people have reported that with these jerks comes hallucinations, vivid dreams, or even ringing noises inside of their heads! Though, with the acknowledgement of hypnagogic jerks and what comes with them, the actual main cause in the body is unknown. Here are two popular theories from the researches:

  1. The first idea is that the jerks are just natural when transitioning from alertness to sleep by nerves in the body ‘misfiring’.
  2. The second idea is that hypnagogic jerks result from evolution. It’s argued that the spasms are a primitive reflex where the brain at one time in history misinterpreted the transition from movement to relaxation and sleep as a sign of the primate falling, making the muscles quickly react.

Even with those two theories the actual cause is still a mystery and scientists continue to try and find it. Though don’t be scared if you experience a hypnagogic jerk once in a while that causes you to wake up, but if this starts to happen on a more frequent and repetitive basis seek a sleep specialist!

Feel free to comment your experiences with hypnagogic jerks!!

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Is Sleep Important?

Photoshop by Bryce Martin from google images.

The next time you decide to stay up at night to play video games or to watch Netflix, you might want to think twice!

Having enough sleep is essential to living a productive and healthy life. Without it, you will suffer in many ways. Sleep does not only make your body tired, but it also makes your brain cells tired. Sleep deprivation slows down brain function, which can result in mental lapses and loss of memory. Lack of sleep will cause the body’s neurons to slow down and not function as they should.

A study done by Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at UCLA, showed just how harmful sleep deprivation is.

To study the effects of deprivation, Fried recruited 12 patients with epilepsy, who already had electrodes implanted in their brains from a surgery unrelated to this study. These electrodes gave researchers access to their individual brain cells.

The people in the study stayed up for an entire night. During this time, the researchers measured the participants’ brain activity as they performed different tasks. For example, the patients were asked to categorize various images of faces, places and animals as fast as possible. Each image created a unique pattern of electrical activity in the brain.  Specifically, the researchers focused on cell activity in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

The researchers found that as the patients stayed up longer, they became more tired, and it became more challenging for them to categorize the images. Their brain cells were clearly beginning to slow down.

The results also showed that the people staying up all night were going through mental lapses because sleep deprivation affected different parts of the brain. For all of these people, parts of their brains were turned off even though the other parts were fully functional.

Fried’s research, in addition to other studies, proves that sleep deprivation is similar to being drunk. Insufficient sleep exerts a similar influence on our brains as drinking too much. Lack of sleep can prohibit people from doing many things such as driving safely. People who are tired are not as alert and cannot react and adapt to their surrounding environment. Kids cannot focus in school and participate in extracurricular activities without enough sleep. Kids will be putting their education at risk if they do not sleep.

Is the extra hour of Netflix really worth it? Absolutely…NOT.

Sleep is one thing that should never be sacrificed.

8 Genes That May Be Affecting Your Sleep Patterns

Have you ever wondered why you struggle to fall asleep at night, while your sibling has no issues sleeping soundly for eight hours? What causes your sleep patterns? While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for

While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for many, it is simply caused by the way their brains and bodies work. New research has identified for the first time eight specific genes that are linked to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. The data also revealed that some of the genes associated with disturbed sleep identified in this study seemed to be linked to certain metabolic and neuropsychiatric diseases too, like restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity.

Richa Saxena, one of the co-authors and assistant professor of  anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard medical school, explained why this research was so important: while “it was previously known that sleep disturbances may co-occur with many diseases in humans, but it was not known that there are shared genetic components that contribute both to sleep problems and these conditions.” Furthermore, while studies have previously identified genes linked to some sleep disorders, this is the first study that has specifically linked genes to insomnia.

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The study looked at the prevalence of insomnia, sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in 112,586 European adults who had participated in a UK Biobank study. All participants had their genes mapped, as well as additional information like weight and diseases/chronic conditions. The results revealed fascinating linkages between certain genes. For example, the genes linked to insomnia were most strongly related to those associated with restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance, and depression, while the genes associated with excessive daytime sleepiness were also linked to obesity. Saxena remarked again that “it was not known until this study that there are shared genetic components- shared underlying biological pathways- that contribute to both sleep problems and these shared conditions.”

Of course, this study is not 100% conclusive- people who have trouble sleeping are not necessarily at higher risk for restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity. In reality, it is likely that many different genes contribute to both sleep problems and these medical problems, Saxena said. But this new study does suggest that these problems share genes and underlying pathways.

So what does this research do for the average person? Well, not much. Right now, it’s just fascinating news that there may be a genetic reason people with these disorders are more likely to have troubled sleep. However, there is hope that in the future researchers will be able to design and test various drugs to target these genes. This would bring immense benefits to people who struggle to keep normal sleep patterns, as well as helping individuals proactively avoid diseases they may be more at risk for (for example, obesity).


Daylight Hurting Time?

New studies have found that daylight savings time might do more hurting, than saving.  Apparently, changing human’s circadian rhythm (aka theiScreen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.29.23 PMr sleeping cycle) can lead to higher risks of stroke. It raises the risk of a specific type of stroke, an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is when blood clots block blood vessels that carry blood to the brain.  The risk of getting a stroke during or around daylight savings time was 8% higher for the average person. Cancer patients have a 25% increase and people over the age of 65 have a 20% increase after the time change.

Though these increases may be small…. they are still increases and that is significant. All problems root with changing the circadian rhythm; it controls the regulation of most of the daily routine. Throwing off a sleep schedule is never good because no one likes to be tired, however it’s possibly more dangerous than we originally assumed. I believe sleep is one of the most rejuvenating things and not something that should be messed with, therefore I agree that if daylight savings causes problem… it’s doing more hurting than saving.

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Out Like a Light: Sleep Switch in Brain Identified

Researchers from Oxford University’s Center of Neural Circuits and Behavior have identified the switch in the brain, which causes sleep, from a study of fruit flies. This switch regulates sleep promoting neurons in the brain. When one is tired and in need of sleep, these neurons will activate. Once you are fully rested, neuron activity will die down. Though this new insight was gained through studying fruit flies, or Drosophila, the researchers believe this information is also relevant to humans. In the human brain, there are similar neurons that are active during sleep and are the targets of general anesthetics that cause sleep. These facts support the idea that humans have a sleep mechanism like that found in fruit flies, according to Dr. Jeffrey Donlea, one of the lead authors of the study. The findings of this study were published in the journal, Neuron.The discovery of this sleep switch is important for a number of reasons like finding new treatments for sleep disorders, but it is just a small piece of the enigma that is sleep. The internal signal, which this sleep switch responds to, is still unknown, as is the activity of these sleep-promoting cells while we are awake. We do not even know why humans and all other animals need sleep.


In spite of these mysterious, scientists do know how the body regulates sleep. Humans and animals have a body clock, which makes us accustomed to the 24 hour cycle of day and night, and a sleep switch, which logs the hours you are awake and causes you to sleep when you need rest. When this mechanism is off or not being used, sleep deficiency increases. The combination of these two is the most likely cause of us sleeping at night.

The significance of this switch in the process of sleep and its relationship to bodily function was found when studying the fruit flies. If they did not sleep, mutant flies cannot regain these lost sleep hours. Sleep-deprived flies are also more likely to nod off and be cognitively impaired. Like sleep-deprived humans, these flies were subject to severe learning and memory deficiencies. In the mutant flies, the researchers proved the insomnia of the flies was due to a broken part of the electrical activity switch, which caused the sleep-inducing neurons to always be off.

Why do you think sleep is important? How is this discovery significant and how do you think this information will be used in the future? Will the mystery of sleep be solved soon?

Photograph by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

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The “Sleep Switch” Has Been Discovered

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 12.07.37 AM

If you’re like me, and most of you are since you’re all human, you’ve probably had a night or two where you just couldn’t fall asleep and figured that you had too much going on in your brain.  Maybe, if you’ve taken a biology course at some point or another, you’ve thought that your brain just has too much activity going on and you wished it would all just come to a nice rest.  In reality, if you’re experiencing that little bit of restlessness, your brain isn’t doing enough!  Scientists at Oxford University’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behavior recently carried out a study on fruit flies in which they determined the “sleep switch” is really just a regulation of certain neurons in the brain which become more active when the body needs sleep.  Although the study was done on an entirely different species, these scientists still believe that the mechanism is comparable in humans due to the presence of similar neurons in the human brain.  The study showed that when sleep is needed by the body, the “electrical excitability” of the neurons increases, leading to the conclusion that their activity is related to how sleep is triggered.

While this recent discovery has already been inspiring new ideas on how to combat sleep disorders, it is really a step towards the much more basic question, “Why do we (animals) need to sleep?”  The next step towards answering this questions, explains Dr. Diogo Pimentel of Oxford University, is to identify “what happens in the brain during waking that requires sleep to reset.”

This “sleep switch” mechanism is one of two that are theorized to be used in the process of sleep.  The other being the body’s internal clock, which adjusts an animal to certain cycles based on the 24 hour day.  At the point of sleepiness, “The body clock says it’s the right time, and the sleep switch has built up pressure during a long waking day,” explains Professor Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the study was conducted.

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The damages of Sleep Loss

Roughly 30 million Americans are “just trying to catch up on their sleep.” 20% of Americans report that they get less than 6 hours of sleep on average. This nation-wide sleep loss is “taking a toll on our physical and emotional health, and on our nation’s highways.” Sleep loss leads to a variety of inconvenient issues.

image taken from WikimediaCommons

According to Discovery Health, Inability to handle stress, inability to concentrate, poor memory, poor decision making,  increased appetite, diminished motor skills, relationship trouble, medical problems, and mood swings can all be the ill effects of sleep deprivation. This has been known by scientists for a long time, but the reasons on a molecular-level were unclear.

However, recent headway has been made in understanding the consequences of sleep deprivation on a molecular level. A new study at the University of Surrey in England showed changes in gene activity in 26 people who had built up a sleep deficit. Reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that after a week of considerable sleep deprivation the blood tests of the 26 subjects showed changes in 711 of their genes.

The “changes” observed in the genes including a disruption of the cell cycle; the cells stopped their circadian rhythm. On the other hand, cells that don’t typically follow a cycle fell into a daily rhythm. Many of the genes that showed changes were related to the immune system. This would account for the previously and widely observed medical issues connected with sleep loss. “The researchers conclude that skimping on sleep can drastically change the body’s daily rhythms and may lead to health problems”.



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Sleeping with your eyes open while driving?

Researchers at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute in Massachusetts estimate that about 250,000 Americans drive while sleep deprived everyday, and according to the National Highway Safety Administration, about 6,000 people are killed each year by an exhausted driver. That’s only second to drunk driving fatalities!

Experts say that you need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your judgement and memory can be impaired, and you may even find yourself snoozing throughout the day uncontrollably! What’s worse than that is an insidious phenomenon called microsleep. Microsleeping is a brief transition between sleeping and wakefulness. It can last from a few seconds up to 30 seconds and you may not even realize it.

An ABC reporter did an experiment with the institute just outside of Boston. He mimicked sleep deprivation by staying awake for 32 hours straight. Then he and some of the research scientists got into a van and prepared for him to drive on a closed track for about 2 hours. The reporter explained how he thought he would feel fine as he had done many all-nighters before. However, he wasn’t even able to stay fully awake after 10 minutes of driving. His eyes stayed open, but the monitors

Photo By: Jace
Found through “free to use and share” on Google images

attached to his brain detected that he was microsleeping. After 20 minutes into the driving, he found himself driving on the grasses off of the track and immediately turned the wheel back onto the track.

Once the experiment was over, the researchers told him that he had fallen asleep a total of 22 times for about 6 seconds each time. 6 seconds may not sound like a lot, but think about not looking at the road while driving for 6 seconds–the possibility of an accident increases tremendously!  Fortunately the experiment was done in a controlled environment while the driver was going only about 15 to 20 mph. Think about all the people who drive sleep deprived everyday while driving with speeds up to 70 mph! Yes, caffeine can help keep you alert, but only for a short period of time. There’s nothing that can replace a good night’s sleep, wouldn’t you agree?


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Drowsy Dogs

Photo By: recompose

When a person sees another person yawning, they are more prone to yawn as well. As it turns out, so are puppies. According to a new study, puppies are susceptible to human yawns as well!

Elaine Alenkær Madsen, PhD, and Tomas Persson, PhD, researchers at Lund University, have been studying the yawn contagion, specifically between different species. They were able to determine that puppies above the age of seven months were susceptible to yawning when a human yawned. But, they also found that the puppies under the age of seven months did not yawn when the humans in the experiment yawned.

These findings are similar to those found for human beings. Children only begin to become susceptible to yawning at around the age of four. These results help to prove that there is a general developmental pattern, concerning empathy, that is shared by humans and other animals. These results could help other researchers in discovering more about the developmental processes of human beings and other animals similar to them, like monkeys, apes and now dogs.


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Don’t forget your sleep

Photo Credit: Me

Let’s face it there are many nights when we don’t get the sleep we need for some reason or other.  Not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep is pretty much the norm for students, but according to a new study this lack of sleep could really be hurting us later on.  This new study found that disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques, which are a known to be a hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brains of people who did not yet have any memory problems.

The author of the study Yo-El Ju, who works with Washington University School of Medicine conducted the study by testing the sleep patterns of one hundred people, ages 45 to 80, who were free of dementia.  Half of this group had a family history of Alzheimer’s.  Sleep diaries and questionnaires were used to learn about the patients sleeping habits as well as a device placed on the participants for two weeks to measure sleep.

The study found that 25% of the participants had evidence of amyloid plaques, which are known to be able to show up years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.  Most of these people spend an average of eight hours in bed, but only 6.5 hours asleep due to waking up at night.  The study found that people who were waking up more than five times an hour were more likely to have the amyloid plaque build-up than the people who didn’t wake up much at all.  The study also said that people who slept less efficiently were more likely to have markers of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr.Ju says it will take more time and data to fully understand the link, but I think for now it is safe to say that sometimes we should put our homework down and get to sleep.

Are Early Birds and Night Owls Just Neurologically Wired Differently?

Photo Credit: National Media Museum

Are you an early bird? Perhaps you’re a night owl? Well researchers at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta have been doing studies that have found that their may be neurological differences between morning and night people.

After using a questionnaire to separate subjects based on habits, researchers used magnetic torque imagining-guided brain stimulation to test things like muscle torque and excitability of pathways through the nervous system. The tests found that while morning people’s brains were most excitable at 9 in the morning and increased throughout the day, evening people were most stimulated at 9 at night. However, researchers found that night people’s strength increased throughout the day and morning people’s strength maxed out by night time. This is interesting because both groups increased reflex pathway ability for stimulation as the day went on, but the night group didn’t max out as the morning group did. This is evidence supporting the notion that everyone’s nervous systems function differently.

“What does this mean though? Why’s it important?” Well increasing our understanding of the NS allows us to enhance our ability to work towards cures for neurologic diseases. The principle that everyone’s brain and nervous system functions differently could lead to multiple methods specialized for curing patients and ultimately higher success. On top of this, it could lead to a better understanding as to why certain people do certain things (ex: psychopaths vs. normal), why some people are rhythmically sick more often than others, and why some teenagers are more antisocial and prone to depression.


Photo Credit: mont3rros4

We all know that sleep deprivation causes the brain to become exhausted, but  a recent new study has shown that sleep deprivation causes nerve cells to become increasingly jumpy.


Most of us these days don’t get enough sleep. But sleep deprivation can cause people to have seizures and hallucinations. People believe that sleep deprivation lowers a person’s alertness, but Marcello Massimini from the University of Milan and his fellow colleagues have discovered that the brain actually becomes more reactive as hours awake accumulate.

Six people were gathered and did not sleep for a whole day. Massimini gave each person a jolt of magnetic current to the participants skull. The nerve cell received an electrical response and Massimini was able to measure the strength of the electrical response. He did this to the patients twice. Once right after they woke up from sleep and once after they hadn’t sleep for a whole day. The results were that the patients had a stronger electrical response after they hadn’t slept for a whole day than when they just woke up.

The theory is that the brain accumulates connection as the person learns new things. Sleep clears the brain of extra information and leaves only the most important information and connections. These enhanced excitability could be the explanation of why people have seizures after they haven’t slept in a whole day. Also doctors have induced seizures on patients by keeping them up all night. New studies are being tested if wether sleep deprivation can lead to reversing depression since the brain has a heightened excitement without sleep.

Other effects of sleep deprivation are stress, memory impairment, and poor quality of life. It is advisable for teenagers and adults to get about 8-9 hours of sleep. Now lets get some sleep!

Lets Cure Insomnia!

I sometimes take melatonin in order to sleep, however it does not always work. A group of researchers at the  Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) “has made a major breakthrough by unraveling the inner workings of melatonin.” This research has led to the development of UCM765, which activates activates only non-rem (deep) sleep.

There are 2 main melatonin receptors. MT1, which stimulates REM sleep and MT2 which stimulates non-REM sleep. Non- rapid eye movement sleep is a much deeper sleep.  An associate professor of psychiatry at McGill said that “specifying the role of MT2 receptors in melatonin represent a major scientific breakthrough that may designate them as a promising novel target for future treatments of insomnia. This discovery also explains the modest hypnotic effect of the over-the-counter melatonin pills, which act on both conflicting receptors.” So, the reason that UCM765 would be so effective is because it promotes deeper sleeps by stimulating more MT2, but not stimulating more MT1.

So far, the results of this study has proved effective by increasing sleep in mice and rats. This study may (hopefully) get us one step closer towards curing insomnia!


Bad day? Just sleep it off

Credit: Cami Marlowe

Have you ever had a bad day and woken up the next morning in a good mood?  This is because a recent study has shown that while dreaming at night during periods of REM sleep, the brain is in an environment where the is a low amount of stress chemicals.  The brain being in this state helps to take the strong emotion out of sad or hurtful memories. Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley has said that “we feel better about the [memories] because we feel that we can cope.”

Walker wanted to figure out if he could use this logic to help people suffering from PTSD.  These peole are unable to recover from their painful experiences even after years of being away from the trigger.  Researchers have found that the overnight therapy does not work well for people with PTSD because there may be many triggers that occur during the day such as a car backfiring that bring back the emotion that was unable to be fully wiped away with sleep. It has also been found that people with PTSD and other mood disorders are not able to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

In order to try and help those with PTSD, Walker wanted to learn more about the curing power of dreams so he conducted a study in which 35 healthy adults were divided into two groups.  Both of the groups were shown a series of 150 pictures that were meant to evoke emotion.  While they were looking at the pictures there brain was being looked at with an MRI.  One of the groups were shown the series of pictures in the morning and then again at night without sleeping for anytime between the two viewings. The other group was shown the series of pictures at night and then again in the morning after a

full nights sleep. The results of the MRI were very interesting. The MRI showed that the people who were allowed to sleep between viewing the pictures had a much less significant emotional reaction to them the second time. The part of the brain that processes emotions was much less active which allowed the rational part of the brain to control the emotions.  While the participants slept researchers noticed that there were less stress chemicals in the brain then while they were awake.  This could mean that the emotion from seeing the images was being diminished.

So what does this mean for those suffering from PTSD? Walker found out that a type of blood pressure medicine was able to suppress the stress chemicals found in the brain. When less stress chemicals were present, the PTSD patients were able to have more REM sleep and therefore, reduce the night mares and have a better quality sleep which allowed them to begin to recover.

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