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Protein Nasal Spray Revives Sleep-Deprived Monkeys

A natural brain compound could help shift workers or those with narcolepsy, scientists say

FRIDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- The naturally occurring brain protein called orexin-A may be key to undoing the negative mental effects of staying up all night, at least in monkeys.

Orexin-A is a peptide (a kind of protein) made in the brain to regulate sleep, according to a team at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. Normal levels of orexin-A help people to stay awake during the day.

When people do not get enough sleep, the brain attempts to make more of the peptide to preserve alertness but often fails to fight off the body's daily sleep cycle, according to the researchers.

The Wake Forest team studied the effects of orexin-A on monkeys that were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours.

When the monkeys were challenged with tasks they had been trained to do that required some thought, they were not able to perform at their normal levels.

However, monkeys that endured sleep deprivation and were then given orexin-A improved their performance to a normal level. Additionally, brain imaging revealed that the monkeys' brains had the same pattern of activity when they were given the peptide as when they had not lost any sleep.

Orexin-A can be given either by IV-drip or nasal spray, although the monkeys performed better with the nasal spray, reported the researchers.

The researchers suggested that these results could have important implications for people suffering from the sleep disorder narcolepsy and for people whose lifestyles may cause sleep deprivation, such as shift workers.

The results were published in the Dec. 31 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience.

More information

To learn more about how to improve sleep habits, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.

-- Madeline Vann

SOURCE: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, Dec. 31, 2007

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