Nasal Spray Could Help the Sleep Deprived

Posted on December 28, 2007

Wired reports that scientists have discovered a brain hormone called orexin A that people could snort to reverse the effects of sleep deprivation. It has worked in monkeys. Sleep-deprived monkeys became alert with no ill effects - as if they had received plenty of sleep - after receiving a nasal spray containing the hormone.

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The treatment is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."

Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a "sleep replacement" drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings. The military, for example, administers amphetamines to pilots flying long distances, and has funded research into new drugs like the stimulant modafinil (.pdf) and orexin A in an effort to help troops stay awake with the fewest side effects.

It sounds promising. If it delivers as promised there were be many people interested in using it. You have to wonder though if someone were to use this frequently whether it would have an impact on memory or learning. Sleeping is thought to help the brain process information so would using a drug like this impact learning is the tiredness purely a chemical problem? Wired's story says it will be at least a decade before the drug described above would be available to humans here in the U.S.

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