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Researchers Find Links Between Sleep, Anesthesia and Coma
Date:12/29/2010

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors can learn more about anesthesia, sleep and coma by paying attention to what the three have in common, a new report suggests.

"This is an effort to try to create a common discussion across the fields," said review co-author Dr. Emery N. Brown, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "There is a relationship between sleep and anesthesia: could this help us understand ways to produce new sleeping medications? If we understand how people come out of anesthesia, can it help us help people come out of comas?"

The researchers, who compared the physical signs and brain patterns of those under anesthesia and those who were asleep, report their findings in the Dec. 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. They acknowledged that anesthesia, sleep and coma are very different states in many ways and, in fact, only the deepest stages of sleep resemble the lightest stages of anesthesia. And people choose to sleep, for example, but lapse into comas involuntarily. But, as Brown puts it, general anesthesia is "a reversible drug-induced coma," even though physicians prefer to tell patients that they're "going to sleep."

"They say 'sleep' because they don't want to scare patients by using the word 'coma,'" Brown said. But even anesthesiologists use the term without understanding that it's not quite accurate, he said. "On one level, we truly don't have it clear in our minds from a neurological standpoint what we're doing."

So what do sleep and anesthesia have in common? Physicians monitor the brains of people when they've been knocked out by anesthesia, and they do the same thing when they study people who are sleeping, Brown said. "If you have a better understanding of how brain circuits work, you can better understand how to do this."

Another study co-author said both sleep and anesthesia can help she
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