November 29, 2011
Neurotransmitter Hypocretin Key To Wakefulness

Light gets translated into signals to your hypothalamus which makes a neurotransmitter that governs wakefulness.

Bright light arouses us. Bright light makes it easier to stay awake. Very bright light not only arouses us but is known to have antidepressant effects. Conversely, dark rooms can make us sleepy. It's the reason some people use masks to make sure light doesn't wake them while they sleep.

So I wonder: Should we use light alarm clocks rather than sound alarm clocks? Seriously, anyone reading this use a clock tied to a light source that either suddenly or gradually grows brighter to wake yourself up in the morning? Sound seems like an unnatural thing to use to wake up. Light at least is causing signals to be sent to the brain that trigger hormonal changes that ready your body to waken. So why not use light to wake up? Seems healthier.

The hypothalamus is key to waking up. It is also key to regulation of hunger, thirst, and body temperature. Hey, have your body warm up before you wake up and then wake up thirsty and feeling really ready to get going. Can light do that for us?

Now researchers at UCLA have identified the group of neurons that mediates whether light arouses us or not. Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and colleagues report in the current online edition of the Journal of Neuroscience that the cells necessary for a light-induced arousal response are located in the hypothalamus, an area at the base of the brain responsible for, among other things, control of the autonomic nervous system, body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue and sleep.

Mice without enough of the neurotransmitter hypocretin can't stay away in the light. Lack of hypocretin causes narcolepsy in humans and also people with Parkinson's don't have enough of it.

These cells release a neurotransmitter called hypocretin, Siegel said. The researchers compared mice with and without hypocretin and found that those who didn't have it were unable to stay awake in the light, while those who had it showed intense activation of these cells in the light but not while they were awake in the dark.

This same UCLA research group earlier determined that the loss of hypocretin was responsible for narcolepsy and the sleepiness associated with Parkinson's disease. But the neurotransmitter's role in normal behavior was, until now, unclear.

Suppose one has a smart phone with a speaker jack. Could the alarm on a smart phone be used to somehow trigger a light? How to make the alarm sound on a headset jack feed into triggering a light switch? Anyone know of off-the-shelf parts available do this?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 November 29 08:44 PM  Brain Sleep

jb said at November 30, 2011 7:11 AM:

There are a bunch of alarm clocks that simulate sunrise. I'm probably going to buy one, I definitely get depressed in winter.

brian said at November 30, 2011 8:29 PM:

There is quite a variety of electical outlet timers. I've used one to help me wake up for years now.

terrence said at November 30, 2011 10:24 PM:

I use such a light to wake up (called NatureBright) - it gradually gets brighter starting at 8:00 am (you can adjust the time and duration). Hopefully it will re-set my circadian rhythms. It is part of an attempt to deal with chronic insomnia.

These lights are often very effective against SAD. It seems humans NEED a certain amount of sunlight or light from a NatureBright.

Brian Engler said at December 4, 2011 6:42 PM:

I "built" (guided partly by plans on the internet) a dawn simulator using an X-10 dimmable lamp timer and a royal blue LED rope light. It works well. Doesn't always wake me up (I'm only using 5 watts of light, when I get time I plan to build a better version with 20 watts or so) but my sleep schedule no longer wanders.

Anonymous reviewer said at December 9, 2011 5:05 AM:

Typo in the title.

Josef B said at December 22, 2011 6:38 PM:

I picked up a timer & grow light (trying to reproduce natural light) from a garden store. Cheap & incredibly effective. Make sure sleeping room is pitch dark during sleeping hours. Contrast, i imagine, is the key.

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