If you are having trouble getting a sound sleep, you may be having calcium deficiency, according to a new study.
The study, which finds that calcium channel is a key to deep sleep, also gives clarity on both normal and abnormal waking brain functions.
"It is the same brain, same neurons and similar requirements for oxygen and so on. So what is the difference between these two states?" asks Rodolfo Llinas, a professor of neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine and a Whitman Center Investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole.
To tackle the broad question of sleep, Llinas and his colleagues focus on one crucial part of the puzzle in mice in Marine Biological Laboratory.
Calcium channels, selective gates in neuron walls, are integral in neuron firing, ensuring that all parts of the brain keep talking to one other. But during sleep, calcium channel activity is increased, keeping a slow rhythm that is different from patterns found during wakefulness.
Based on this clue, the scientists remove one type of calcium channel, Cav3.1, and look at how the absence of that channel's activity affect mouse brain function. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This calcium channel turns out to be a key player in normal sleep. The mice without working Cav3.1 calcium channels takes longer to fall asleep than normal mice, and stays asleep for much shorter periods.
Their brain activity is also abnormal, more like normal wakefulness than sleep. Most importantly, these mice never reach deep, slow-wave sleep.
"This means that we have discovered that Cav3.1 is the channel that ultimately supports deep sleep," Llinas says.
Because these mice completely lack the ability to sleep deeply, they eventually express a syndrome similar to psychiatric disorders in humans.