A protein in the muscle can lessen the negative effects of sleep loss, new research has shown.
The finding challenges the widely accepted belief that it is the brain that controls all aspects of sleep.
A study led by researchers from Texas discovered that mice with higher levels of a protein called BMAL1 in their muscles recovered from sleep deprivation more quickly.
When the scientists removed this from the muscle it led to disrupted normal sleep and a reduced ability to recover from its effects.
They say that it could lead to a new treatment that could benefit people who suffer from sleep disorders.
Sleep deprivation raises risk of obesity, depression, heart attacks and strokes.
'This finding is completely unexpected and changes the ways we think sleep is controlled,' said researcher Dr Joseph S. Takahashi, chairman of neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Previous research suggests we have a 'master clock' that controls circadian rhythms - or our internal body clock which determines our sleep pattern.
This consists of a group of nerve cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the hypothalamus in the brain, according to the National Institute of General Medicines Sciences.
But now the research, published in the journal eLife, reveals how BMAL1 - a 'circadian clock protein' - in the muscle regulates the length and manner of sleep.
It was all down to the levels in muscles, as the protein's presence or absence in the brain had little effect on sleep recovery, researchers found.
In addition, removing BMAL1 from the muscle led to an increased need for sleep and a deeper sleep.
Dr Takahashi said the development of a new therapy based on these findings could especially be useful for those in occupations requiring long stretches of wakefulness, from military to airline piloting.
'These studies show that factors in muscles can signal to the brain to influence sleep,' he explained.
'If similar pathways exist in people, this would provide new drug targets for the treatment of sleep disorders.'
Mice are tested on in medical research because they are very biologically similar to humans.
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