Are You Sleeping Well? Nobel Prize in Medicine is Awarded For Sleep Research

4 October 2017

We all know that a good night's sleep can make a huge difference in our mood, productivity, relationships, health and general wellbeing. ( Read sleep expert Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan's advice on why it's important that we learn to sleep better in the 21st century ).

In fact, sleep is SO important that the 2017 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded in its honour: to scientists Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm” (better known as the biological clock).

Before you nod off, let's look into why this has helped to illuminate some of the mysteries of sleep.

What the laureates discovered is that all forms of life on the planet - including humans, other animals, and plants - regulate their body clock using the sun, with special technologies inside the body. In other words, we adapt our biological rhythm so that it is in sync with the Earth’s revolutions.

Why is this significant? The researchers managed to demonstrate how the body clock can disrupt the central ways that the body works, including things like behaviour, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism. This helps to explain why huge problems can result for people if it is thrown off; why disturbed sleep, like in the case of jet lag or insomnia, can have terrifying knock-on consequences, such an increased risk of certain diseases.

To test the theory, the three scientists used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm and showed how this gene encoded a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day.

The discovery may not, as yet, be especially practical, but understanding the way that the clock in our bodies operates and affects other parts of our being could help us learn how to use that same process to improve it. It's also a reminder of why keeping good sleep hygiene i.e. by ensuring that we maintain good sleep patterns and keep ourselves in sync with the sun, is important.

Thanks to their research and its anticipated implications, Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young now stand alongside other Nobel medicine laureates, which include Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner, whose identification of separate blood types opened the way to carrying out safe transfusions.

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Source:  The Independent

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