Let’s be serious, who couldn’t use more sleep during the night? Perhaps, one day this can be attained and insomnia will no longer be an issue in the world. In the meantime, it is possible that researchers have a hunch of where to begin. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; let’s begin with the basics. Insomnia is neither a disease nor a diagnosis, but instead a symptom. Insomnia is seen as the inability to fall asleep or maintain sleep throughout the night, or it can bee seen as both. Insomnia is not biased to age; it can affect a wide range of people. No one should have to be restless in the morning, which is why it imperative that researchers may have found a solution to this problem.
In the article, “Secrets of the ‘Sleep Hormone’: Discovery Leads to Novel Melatonin Drug With Potential to Treat Insomnia”, the research revealed the main role played by the melatonin receptor in the brain that promotes deep sleep. This led researchers to develop a drug called UCM765, which selectively activates this receptor in melatonin. Melatonin is a vital hormone that is responsible for regulating sleep. Achieving deep sleep is vital because it “has significant restorative effects, as well as the ability to increase memory and boost metabolism, while lowering blood pressure and slowing the heart rate,” states Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and the study’s principal investigator. UCM765 causes deep sleep in an area of the brain called the reticular thalamus. Dr. Gobbi goes on to say that “This new molecule, contrary to traditional treatments for insomnia, increases deep sleep without destroying the “architecture” of sleep. In other words, it increases the duration of deep sleep while keeping the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep episodes the same.” Although this treatment for insomnia has not been perfected yet, it sure seems a whole lot more promising then counting sheep!
Furthermore, the research team discovered that two main melatonin receptors, known as MT1 and MT2, played different roles in sleep regulation. MT1 receptors act on REM sleep and block non-REM sleep, which means that deep sleep is not favored. REM sleep is characterized by the random movement of the eyes while sleeping. It is due to REM sleep that people can remember their dreams from the night before. Now you have an educated answer for when someone asks you how you recalled your dreams!
On the other hand, it was found that MT2 receptors do favor deep sleep. The UCM765 drug selectively binds to the MT2 receptor. When testing the treatment on rats and mice, the researchers observed an increase in the phases of deep sleep. Important strides have been made, which is why the team at RI-MUHC and McGill University are hopeful that this can eventually lead to a major scientific breakthrough as a promising target for future insomnia treatments.