Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a key molecular mechanism that helps the sleep-deprived to mentally rebound.
Mental clarity lost due to few sleepless nights can often be restored with a good night's rest.
In the study conducted using mouse model, they discovered a molecule called an adenosine receptor that is necessary for sleep-restricted animals to attain adequate levels of slow-wave activity in the brain once normal sleep resumes.
It is this increase in slow-wave activity, or SWA, during rebound sleep that helps restore normal working memory and attention skills to the sleep-deprived.
"Normal society pushes people to burn candles at both ends, going to bed late, getting up early, and somehow performing mentally with lack of adequate sleep," said senior author Dr. Robert Greene, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern.
"We need to have our adenosine receptors intact to do that," he added.
Adenosine receptors on nerve cells, including brain cells, are akin to docking points for the molecule adenosine. Adenosine levels increase in the brain with each hour of waking activity, and "docking" of the molecule with its receptor is shown in this study to help promote the slow-wave activity (SWA) of sleep.
Greene said that linking the lack of functioning adenosine receptors to depressed normal SWA rebound response might aid in developing treatments for people with sleep-related cognitive deficits.
The study appears in Journal of Neuroscience.