Why people get drowsy and fall asleep, and how caffeine blocks that process, are the subjects of a new study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center. When cells in a certain part of the brain become overworked, a compound in the brain kicks in, telling them to shut down. This causes people to become drowsy and fall asleep. Alter that natural process by adding coffee or tea, and the brain compound – called adenosine – is blocked, and people stay awake.
These findings, available online and in the April 21 issue of the journal Neuron, offer new clues regarding the function of the brain in the body’s natural sleep process, as well as potential targets for future treatments for insomnia and other sleep problems. Prolonged increased neural activity in the brain’s arousal centers triggers the release of adenosine, which in turn slows down neural activity in the arousal center areas. Because the arousal centers control activity throughout the entire brain, the process expands outward and causes neural activity to slow down everywhere in the brain.
"Insomnia and chronic sleep loss are very common problems," said Dr. Robert W. Greene, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study. "In addition, all the major psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder have sleep disruption as a prominent symptom.
Donna Steph Hansard | EurekAlert!
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