New Findings Explain How Melatonin Promotes Sleep


Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Summary: Researchers have discovered how melatonin suppresses neurons in the brain that keeps you awake and alert. These findings could lead to new therapies for those who suffer from insomnia.


An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have some type of sleep disorder, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Some turn to melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep. Melatonin is a hormone known to promote sleep, but its underlying mechanisms are unknown. We as a society are losing sleep because we are working too hard, and it’s causing a variety of health concerns. We often don’t even think about sleep or consider it important. However, there is nothing more important than sleep. We need to focus on therapies that can help you have quality sleep, not just sleep. Researchers from the  University of Missouri School of Medicine have discovered how melatonin suppresses neurons in the brain that keeps you awake and alert. These findings could lead to new therapies for those who suffer from insomnia. The study findings were published in the Journal  Journal of Pineal Research.

Sleep hormone

Mahesh Thakkar, Ph.D., professor and director of research in the MU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology authored this story alongside Pradeep Sahota, M.D., chair of neurology at the MU School of Medicine. Credit: Justin Kelley, MU Health Care

Using a mouse model, the team’s research found that melatonin infused in the brain at dark when the mice are awake and active increased sleep and reduced wakefulness by suppressing specific neurons that stimulate the brain to wake up. The team also discovered that blocking melatonin receptors in the brain at bedtime significantly increased wakefulness. The experiments singled out one receptor, MT1, as the mechanism via which melatonin acts to inhibit the specific orexin neurons that wake you up. This discovery could help lead to medications that target only the MT1 receptor instead of multiple receptors, which could lead to fewer side effects for those who take sleep-promoting drugs.

Prof. Mahesh Thakkar said, “Melatonin has been used as a sleep drug for many years, but people didn’t know how it worked, Our research suggests that if you target the melatonin MT1 receptor, you will get the most sleep with minimal side effects.”


More Information: Rishi Sharma et al, “Melatonin promotes sleep in mice by inhibiting orexin neurons in the perifornical lateral hypothalamus”, Journal of Pineal Research (2018). https://doi.org/10.1111/jpi.12498


 

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