Sleep is having its day. While we’ve long known that how we spend our nighttime hours is important, why that should be so eluded researchers for some time. The more sleep is studied, however, the more we realize how essential it is for proper cognitive and physical functioning.
Yet so many distractions keep us from enjoying a proper night’s rest: the blue hue of cell phones, binge watching, chronic anxiety, poor nutrition, parenting, overnight shifts. The cost of lost sleep is steep, increasing your risk for heart problems, infectious diseases, diabetes, and stroke.
Up until now, the most common treatment for insomnia has been sleeping pills, which come with a steep price tag, including impaired cognition, stomach problems, burning sensations in your body’s extremities, and daytime drowsiness, all for mere minutes of extra sleep each evening.
Sleeping pills slow down your nervous system by interacting with specific brain receptors. Specifically, benzodiazepines increase the effects of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which causes a system-wide reduction in neuronal activity in your nervous system. As with similar but slower-acting nonbenzodiazepines, these pills are not prescribed for long-term use.
Interestingly, treating sleep disorders by targeting the brain may have been misguided, or so claims a new study on mice published in eLife. Researchers at UCLA targeted the Bmal1 gene—a “master gene” discovered in 1997, it…
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