Researchers have been learning a lot about human sleep disorders by watching and testing a specific variety of cavefish native to the waters of northeast Mexico. People have been fascinated with these fish for years. However, in a recent discovery, new information showed up that gave the researchers a lot of insight about sleep. No one expected to learn much from a group of tiny fish with no eyes. This new discovery actually gave them a lot of information.
There are many different human sleep disorders that people suffer from. Some of them cause people to not sleep at all, while others cause people to sleep too much. Yet others cause people to have very disrupted sleep, which leaves them feeling as though they did not get any good sleep. Each of these disorders exhibit different symptoms. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common.
Insomnia is a person’s inability to sleep despite that person having plenty of time and opportunity to try. They go to bed at a normal time, yet all night long, they toss and turn, unable to get any solid sleep. Some of the people who suffer from insomnia do get short bursts of sleep. However, their sleep never stays deep enough to give them REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep. This is the deep sleep that leaves you feeling rested, and lets your body heal. There is very little information about the direct cause of insomnia, and treatments vary by individual.
Another of the most common human sleep disorders is sleep apnea. This is when you stop breathing during the night while you are trying to sleep. For some people, they stop breathing for a second or two, then restart on their own without any trouble. However, for others, they stop breathing for much longer periods of time. They can stop breathing for upwards of thirty seconds, occasionally longer. This can be very difficult to even diagnose since most people do not realize they stop breathing. However, once diagnosed, there are treatment options available.
What researchers have come to find out by watching these cavefish is that they have higher amounts of the neuropeptide known as Hypocretin than other species. When their levels were tested, the higher their levels were, the less the fish slept. This helped researchers begin to understand the correlation between Hypocretin and sleep. When humans were tested, since they have the same type of neuropeptide, their results were stunningly similar.
Researchers tested the levels of a research group of people looking for similarities for those suffering from the same human sleep disorders. They found that the humans who also had elevated levels of Hypocretin struggled with insomnia, much like the fish who almost never slept. The fish with the lower levels, just like the humans, were able to get more sleep. This correlation allowed researchers to predict who would have larger issues with insomnia or similar human sleep disorders with a higher accuracy rate.
Since testing these levels, researchers have been able to determine that Hypocretin was partly responsible for trouble sleeping. The higher levels created a restless mind, which kept people and animals awake longer. This can help researchers develop a type of intelligence that never requires sleep. On the other hand, it can also help when it comes to treating human sleep disorders. During their research, these scientists found that when they cut down on the signals being sent from the Hypocretin, the fish slept more. They found that when they genetically decreased the signals, and when they pharmacologically decreased the signals, they got the same response.
By knowing at least one of the neuropeptides that is responsible for a lack of sleep, researchers can work on solutions to lower those levels. This could naturally increase one’s ability to sleep over time. The lower those levels fall, the more natural sleep the person should get. If these same researchers can go through and get these signals blocked, or the neuropeptides to stop having high levels, it can improve people’s ability to sleep. Plus, it can also help cut down on people suffering from human sleep disorders.
Currently, there are limited treatment options for people who suffer from insomnia. Many of the treatment solutions doctors want to start with revolve around the environment. They suggest limiting caffeine, alcohol, and stimulation prior to bed. Plus, they tell you how to change your environment to be more inducive to sleep. There are also some medications that can help, but they are often habit-forming, so these are not an ideal solution for most.
When it comes to sleep apnea, there are other treatment options available. The type of treatment that will work best for you depends on the direct cause of your sleep apnea. If your sleep apnea stems from being overweight, for example, then losing weight can help to resolve the issue. For those who have obstructive sleep apnea, they need an oral appliance to help hold the jaw in the right place during sleep.
There are many types of human sleep disorders out there. The more research that can be done on species like these cavefish, the more scientists can learn about how to treat them. If counteracting the neuropeptide helps to counteract insomnia and other sleep disorders, it may be the solution that everyone has been looking for. Then, everyone would finally be able to get a good night’s sleep, once and for all.