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Scientists have discovered how your brain wakes you up

The smells of coffee and breakfast foods have long been credited for rousing even the sleepiest of heads out of their beds, but now, scientists believe they have a more concise and, well, scientific explanation for how your brain actually wakes up your body. New research from the University of Bern suggests the discovery of “a mechanism which is responsible for the rapid arousal from sleep and anesthesia in the brain.” Scientists believe that their findings may give way to “new strategies for the medical treatment of sleep disorders and recovery of consciousness in vegetative states.”

Given the ubiquity of sleep disorders the world over, Professor Antoine Adamantidis and his team are thrilled by the potential implications their work carries. Along with fellow researcher Carolina Gutierrez Herrera, Adamantidis’ team “identified a new circuit in the brain of mice whose activation causes rapid wakefulness while its inhibition deepens sleep.” When they stimulated this newly found circuit, located between hypothalamus and thalamus, they found that they could terminate light sleep.

Using a technique known as optogenetics, which has been utilized quite frequently in neural research as of late, researchers determined that the circuit could serve as a “new therapeutic target for sleep disorders.”

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“This is [an] exciting discovery since therapeutic approaches to recover from a vegetative or minimally conscious state are quite limited,” Adamantidis said. He and Herrera believe that their work may lead to breakthroughs permitting more precise treatment of sleep disorders. Moreover, the team might be able to create a method for bringing patients out of minimally conscious states.

Still, Adamantidis notes, there’s plenty of work yet to be done in the field. “Even though we made an important step forward now, it will take some time before novel therapeutic strategies will be designed based on our results,” he said.