Newly presented study discusses salt levels in the brain and how they play a very important role in whether a person is sleeping or awake at any given moment.
Professor Maiken Nedergaard from the Center for Basic and Translational Neuroscience at University of Copenhagen says this information could prove quite beneficial in the study of psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia, the confusion some people suffer from after receiving anesthesia and other health concerns related to a lack of sleep.
The amount of salt in our body changes depending on whether we are taking a nap or going about our day and for the first time, researchers are able to show these changes. The Copenhagen study shows that when salt levels are influenced within mice, their sleep-wake cycles can be manipulated. Professor Maiken Nedergaard calls this discovery revealing, adding a whole new component to the understanding of exactly how the brain works. This offers insight into how sleep is controlled and also what may cause patterns in sleep to change. This new information will help further the understanding of individuals who suffer from convulsions when they do not get a proper night’s sleep, while others can miss sleep and continue to function for extended periods of time.
Neuromodulators are what play a large role in choosing when our body stays asleep and when it “decides” to wake up. Adrenaline is an example of a neuromodulator. Adrenaline, for example, has been shown to change the amount of salt located around neurons. The salt balance actually decides whether or not our sleep will be disrupted from say, a touch or a sound. When the body is awake, salt balances cause neurons to be very sensitive to all sorts of stimulations. During the nighttime salt levels change, making it much harder for neurons to be activated. The difference between activation and lack of activity makes a person either wake or remain relaxed.
Professor Maiken Nedergaard believes the problem with previous research done on the brain was that the sole focus was on neural activity. This activity would be tracked, mapped and evaluated in order to understand complicated states of brain functioning. Her study shows that neurons are not the only thing that needs to be looked at to better understand how the human mind works and what causes it to alter from one state of consciousness to another. The professor wants to see more focus placed on cells that play a supporting role, such as astrocytes. These cells actually regulate the salt levels throughout the brain. He stresses the importance of viewing the brain as more than a computer because a computer does not require hours of rest each day in order to function properly the following day. Maiken Nedergaard says we need to know a whole lot more than just neurocomputation in order to get a full view of the brain and what makes it tick.