A new study aims to understand how the brain transitions from its state of unconsciousness to wakefulness. The findings can be used to better understand sleep disorders, as well as the rare instances when patients under anesthesia make memories and can recall what has happened in the operating room.
A barrier to awareness, called “neural inertia,” is similar in a way to, “sleep inertia,” the groggy feeling have when we are abruptly woken from sleep.
In order to study the concept of neural inertia, scientists modified genes known to play a role in sleep in fruit flies anesthetized with isoflourine, in order to see how they impacted the brain’s transition from sleep to wakefulness. They found that four genes involved in natural sleep, Sh (Shaker), sss (sleepless), na, and unc79, control neural inertia, thus the effects of induction and emergence of anesthetic unconsciousness. Various mutations in these four genes profoundly affect neural inertia and can even collapse it completely.
The assumption the same brain processes that occur when a person is going under anesthesia are the same, just reversed, when a person is coming out of anesthesia, is an incorrect one.
Further studies of the neural barrier could bring new strategies for bringing back coma patients back to consciousness and therapies for people with insomnia.
It is fascinating to see how many studies are going on to understand our brains, how we sleep and how we wake up. More answers are coming to your sleep problems every day!