BEACON TRANSCRIPT – For those who suffer from insomnia, scientists have discovered a way of getting a good night’s sleep, despite the condition. Sleep makes us feel alright because it uses the same brain circuit as the feeling of reward does.
The area responsible for making us feel rewarded or having a resting sleep is called “the ventral tegmental area.” This discovery could result in better treatments for people who suffer from insomnia.
As scientists studied mice, they noticed that when they shut down the ventral tegmental area, the mice would fall asleep. They previously knew that the ventral tegmental area is a strong motivational area of the brain. It helps keep us motivated to do tasks like looking for food, running away from predators or having sex.
Dr. Luis de Lecea, a psychiatrist from Stanford University believes the area plays an essential role in preparing the brain to fall asleep. By reducing the motivation for us to do tasks, the brain falls into a resting, deep sleep.
High quality, resting sleep is not an easy feat for many people. This is why these findings could lead to better sleep treatments. The current sleep treatments, mainly based on benzodiazepines numb the brain and do not ensure high-quality sleep.
The ventral tegmental area (VTA in short) has nerve fibers that produce a hormone called dopamine. It is a chemical that plays a role in achieving a state of happiness or rewarding behavior.
Some of this fibers also lead to the “nucleus accumbens.” That’s a structure which is found on the front side of the brain and it gives us feelings of pleasure, in response to doing a task.
Researchers believe that their findings could one-day help people who suffer from neurological conditions. These include schizophrenia or bipolar disorders. Most mental conditions have a common characteristic: the disturbances in sleep-wake cycles.
Dr. Lecea speculates that solving the sleep-wake problem could also help a person get rid of other symptoms too.
He further points out that giving a drug with the right properties and effects could work better than soaking the brain in benzodiazepines, like Valium. They essentially shut down the whole brain and can lead to addiction.
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