Sleep is thought of as a good and simple way to help restore or improve one’s memory, but a new study on fruit flies suggests that extra sleep may benefit the brain in more significant ways. In fact, extra sleep may be able to help the brain overcome serious neurological disorders.
Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied three groups of flies, disabling a different critical memory gene in each of the groups. One of the groups developed a condition similar, but not identical to Alzheimer’s disease, while another group found it difficult to strengthen new connections to process memories. The third group was affected by having too many connections, the exact opposite condition as the second group.
Likewise, the scientists used different sleep-inducing techniques for each of the groups, either stimulating a cluster of important brain cells, boosting protein production in an effort to induce sleep, or giving the flies a drug that artificially lulls them to sleep by imitating a key chemical messenger’s activity. And it didn’t matter which technique they used – with three to four hours extra sleep over two days, the flies were able to create memories once again.
“Our data showed that extra sleep can handle any of these problems,” said Washington University associate professor of neurobiology Paul Shaw. “It has to be the right kind of sleep, and we’re not sure how to induce this kind of slumber in the human brain yet, but our research suggests that if we can learn how, it could have significant therapeutic potential.” He and his fellow researchers have been working with fruit flies for some time in an effort to study the brain mechanisms behind sleep.