September 3, 2010

Could Not Eating Help You Stay Awake?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) - It happens to the best of us, we eat a delicious home-cooked meal -- and minutes later we hit the sack. There's no denying the eating can cause drowsiness, but what if not eating had the opposite effect? If we skipped that delicious turkey dinner, could we finally stay awake for the football game?

A new study suggests that being hungry may be a way to keep oneself awake without feeling dazed or mentally challenged. A team of scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that when depriving fruit flies of food, the need for nourishment significantly outweighs the need for sleep. Fruit flies, like humans, cannot survive without rest, so the scientists engineered these fruit flies to be particularly sensitive to sleep deprivation. When the flies were starving they stayed awake nearly three times longer than they typically could.

The researchers showed that the ability to resist sleep was linked to a protein that aids the fruit fly's brain in storage and lipid usage. Lipids are a class of molecules that includes fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin A and D, and cholesterol. "The major drugs we have to either put people to sleep or keep them awake are all targeted to a small number of pathways in the brain, all of them having to do with neurotransmission," Paul Shaw, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy was quoted as saying. "Modifying lipid processing with drugs may provide us with a new way of tackling sleep problems that is more effective or has fewer side effects."

These findings add more research to the relationship between sleep and dietary metabolism. Until the study, no one had connected genes linked to lipid metabolism with regulation of the need for sleep. The scientists are now trying to identify particular lipids that are affected by the loss of lipid storage droplet 2, a disabling gene that produce effects like starvation.

SOURCE: PLoS Biology, August 31, 2010