Brain Chemical Improves Cognitive Functioning in Sleep-Deprived Monkeys
> 1/2/2008 11:39:18 AM

An individual may experience sleep deprivation for any number of reasons, including a busy work schedule, stress, and health problems. Those who do become sleep-deprived usually have problems functioning on a daily basis, and scientists continue looking for new ways to help those who do not get enough sleep. In a study involving monkeys, researchers from the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center studied the potential benefits of orexin-A, a peptide that occurs naturally in the brain and helps maintain wakefulness, on the sleep-deprived mind. Monkeys who received orexin-A saw improvements in their ability to perform cognitive tasks while sleep-deprived.

The study involved rhesus monkeys who were kept awake for 30 to 36 hours. When they were given a memory task, the monkeys had trouble completing the task and did not perform as well as they would under normal circumstances. The researchers then administered either a placebo or orexin-A via one of two forms: intravenously or through a nasal spray. When tested again, the monkeys who had received orexin-A performed as well as if they had not been sleep-deprived. While both forms of the chemical yielded positive results, the monkeys who received orexin-A through the nasal spray had the greatest improvements in performance. PET scans revealed that orexin-A created activity in brain regions that had been impaired by sleep deprivation, and  the greatest increases in brain activity followed administration of orexin-A via the nasal spray. The researchers also observed that while orexin-A administered in either form had positive effects on sleep-deprived monkeys, it had no effect on well-rested monkeys.

Although this study has provided some promising results for anyone not getting enough sleep, orexin-A would only offer a temporary solution to the problems created by sleep deprivation. Individuals should always talk to their doctor if they are having trouble sleeping and try to address the underlying factors involved. For some, the problem may be solved through a few lifestyle changes, such as going to sleep at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, food, and exercise before bed, removing electronics from the bedroom, and practicing relaxation techniques before going to sleep. Orexin-A may offer more practical benefits to those with more serious sleep disorders, like narcolepsy. Individuals with narcolepsy have low levels of orexin-A, and administering the chemical to them may prove to be an effective treatment.

Sleep deprivation has a large impact on physical and mental health. It can impair the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to illness, and is also associated with weight gain, depression, and heart disease. Researchers should continue to study the factors involved in sleep disorders and work toward new treatment options to help individuals suffering from sleep deprivation maintain their daily activities. Hopefully, more people will become aware of the importance of getting enough sleep and make changes in their lives to facilitate a good night's sleep.

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