Tinkering with the Sleep Gene

Why do our brains need sleep? And can we switch off the genes that make sleep necessary? Medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that they've located a gene that regulates sleep, and if they can switch it on and off it's possible that you'll be able to take a pill to eliminate your desire to snooze. Unfortunately, the researchers' work also shows that doing this might drive you insane or reduce your mental abilities dramatically.

The scientists got their data from an unusual source: worms. When worms are in a state called "lethargus" (the worm equivalent of snoozing), their brains undergo dramatic synaptic changes. In human terms, that means sleep literally rewires your brain, solidifying memories and stabilizing others. Basically, sleep reflashes the structure of your brain, getting you ready to learn the next thing or come up with the next cool idea. So tinkering with sleep genes may not turn out to be a productivity-enhancer — in fact, drugs that play with sleep genes could be the next biological weapon.

Snoozing Worms Explain the Evolution of Sleep [Science Daily]