Though you might take mild offense at being compared to a fly, a new scientific discovery may provide a clue as to why humans and animals alike experience insomnia. A new genetic mutation found in flies can cause 80% less sleep than normal flies, forcing the flies to get by with much less sleep.
The mutation, now dubbed Sleepless, suggests that at our most basic level, sleep is caused by a slowdown in certain neurons. And according to Amita Seghal, a neurobiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who led the new study, an inability to control these neurons may be the cause of restless nights.
"When you're having a bad night of insomnia you do have the need to sleep, but you're not able to," she says. "That might be what’s going on with these animals."
Though a normal fly manages to sleep for around 12 hours a day, those flies with a broken Sleepless only get one or two hours; however they don’t realize they’ve lose sleep. "When you deprive them, you're not really taking away any sleep, because there wasn’t any to begin with," Sehgal says. However as a result, their lifespan shortens and their coordination is impaired.
Another side effect of the Sleepless mutation occurred when the flies were knocked out with ether. When knocked out by the drug, the flies legs began to twitch reflexively, an effect similar to that of another gene mutation that influences sleep patterns by regulating cell communication.
From this, Sehgal hypothesizes that Sleepless controls a brain cell slow-down that she believes may be the very essence of sleep. Thus, if Sleepless isn’t working properly, neural activity goes banana’s, which then causes the twitching legs. This may very well link to the common problem many of us face, known as restless legs syndrome, or for those of us not in a laboratory, jumpy legs.
Posted by Josh Hill.