World's Most Asked Questions: How Can I Fall Asleep?
How Do We Fall Asleep? Ask a Fruit Fly
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When it is time for bed, you walk into the room and flip a switch that turns off the light. Then you lie down, and your brain basically does the same thing. It flips an internal switch that tells your whole body it is time for sleep. Interestingly, researchers learned about this sleep switch by studying the fruit fly.
Now before you dismiss the idea due to the fact that a fruit fly has a miniscule brain, it's important to know that in that tiny fruit fly brain, the same neurons exist in the same locations as in our brains. It makes sense that they serve the same function, and researchers observed that in fruit flies, these particular neurons are basically an off switch.
“Okay, fine. So what does that mean for me?” Good question. According to the CDC, as many as 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping. That's more than 1 out of every 5 people in the nation. And if you are fortunate enough to not have a sleep problem, it still affects you. What if one of those sleepy people suddenly swerves into your lane while you are driving? What if they are flying your plane or driving your child's school bus?
The brain keeps track of sleep debt. When it hits a certain limit, the mechanism is tripped and we fall asleep. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work. For some of us, this part of the brain doesn't function properly. In that case, sleep debt can continue to build until it starts to result in health problems. Imagine the thermostat in your house. It's set to kick on the air unit at a certain temperature. If it's not working, your house gets too hot or too cold.
With this in mind, researchers are trying to come up with ways to trip the switch manually, or to fix the problem with the homeostat – the part of your brain that let's you know when you've been awake too long. The data that researchers got from looking at the fruit flies should help in developing better medications for sleep disorders such as insomnia.
In the meantime, if you are one of the 70 million Americans with problems sleeping, one of the best things you can do is eliminate anything that could be waking you up at night, like mobile devices that vibrate periodically when you get an alert. Try charging them in the living room instead of in your bedroom.
Video: Proven Sleep Tips | How to Fall Asleep Faster | Doctor Mike
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