Humans spend around a third of their lives asleep. But the molecular and genetic mechanisms that control sleepiness are mysteries. Now researchers have shown that a gene called nemuri could be one of the main drivers. In a study on fruit flies, neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that when they suppressed the activity of this gene, the flies woke up easily and had difficulty sleeping. Conversely, when they ramped up nemuri’s activity, the flies effortlessly entered the land of nod. Intriguingly nemuri, which encodes a small protein secreted by brain cells, was also shown to help the flies fight off bacterial infections. It seems as though sleep is a crucial part of the body’s immune response to infection or illness. Anyone sceptical of the recuperative powers of a good night’s rest now has evidence their doctors and mothers were right—sleep really does help. The results were published this week in Science.
This looks like some interesting sleep research to delve into further.