By Rachel Whetstone from In The Cloud Copy
New research is exploring the relationship between circadian rhythms in the brain and bacterial fragments. It’s possible that bacteria has an influence on the body’s sleep/wake cycles and 24-hour cycles.
Bacteria is Abundant, but Mysterious
Most people don’t realize just how much bacteria lives naturally in the human body. Bacteria outnumbers our own cells by a 10 to one ratio. The bacteria affects many functions of the human body, such as sleep, mood, cognition, brain temperature, and appetite. Even so, there’s still a lot that scientists don’t understand about how the bacteria can control the human body functions.
Sleep Research May Hold Answers
A new study has received a grant of one million dollars from the W. M. Keck Foundation, a philanthropic organization that focuses on science and medical research. The study will be conducted by Washington State University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst and will investigate sleep and circadian rhythms.
Researchers will simulate jet lag, a disruption of circadian rhythms due to rapid time zone changes. They will then determine if sleep loss promotes an increase in bacteria activity. It’s possible that bacteria in the body can regulate sleep functions.
Jet Lag Gives Insight into the Body’s Cycles
Jet lag occurs when a person travels to a different time zone. It takes some time for the body to adjust to the local time, and during this adjustment period, many functions of the body can be out of synchrony, causing tiredness and sluggish mental functions.
Lack of sleep can contribute to other health problems and increase the risk of auto accidents and injuries. Discovering the factors that can lead to a lack of sleep could provide better health for everyone who struggles with getting enough rest.
The study of bacteria activity might bring about more treatments for jet lagged travelers or people who have sleep difficulties because of illness or shift work.
Muramyl Peptides Could Hold the Key to Better Sleep
James Krueger, the professor who is leading the research study, has been investigating sleep issues for close to 40 years. In his early research, he isolated a sleep-promoting molecule that was found in the brains of sleep-deprived rabbits and also in human urine. The molecule had the chemical structure of a muramyl peptide, which is part of bacterial cell walls.
Improved technology has advanced the research since that time. It has become easier to detect small amounts of muramyl peptides in the brain. Researchers predict that sleep loss will result in increased levels of muramyl peptides. With new technology and funding, it will be possible to find out if their hypothesis holds true.
If an increase in muramyl peptides is found, Krueger hopes to get a better understanding of how the bacteria is able to promote sleep. Although humans tend to think of ourselves as separate from other species, there is a symbiotic relationship between our brains and the bacteria within us. This research may give scientists new understanding of how we think and function, and even “what it means to be human.”
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