Sleep research from MIB can lead to better treatment of insomnia and coma patients

29. August 2019

In two studies from the DNRF Center for Music in the Brain (MIB), researchers challenge the established understanding of sleep stages and use new theories and computer simulation to rethink possible treatments for disorders such as insomnia and coma.

For almost 100 years, the understanding of sleep has been that the brain goes through the brain goes through the same sleep cycle several times during one night, where we, in the first two stages, sleep lightly before moving into deep sleep and eventually ending in the dream stage called REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement.)

But as we described earlier this year in an article, researchers from the DNRF’s Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) at Aarhus University challenged this understanding of the brain during sleep in a study published in Nature Communications. From waking state to deepest sleep, researchers have identified a total of 19 stages of sleep, and the results are based on 57 brain scans of people who were scanned while falling asleep and during sleep.

“We can now describe sleep in a very precise way. It opens up huge perspectives,” said Professor Morten Kringelbach from MIB and Oxford University, who was part of the study, to the Danish media tv2.dk, which has recently described the research.

The news story at tv2.dk also described a recent study in the scientific journal PNAS, where Kringelbach, along with colleagues, argued that the new understanding of the brain can also be used to rethink the treatment of various disorders.

From the brain scans, the researchers have created a computer simulation of the brain and patterns of brain activity during sleep.

“The exciting thing is that in the simulation we can awaken the sleeping brain by stimulating the specific places. In fact, we can say that we can force the brain’s sleep pattern in a certain direction,” Kringelbach told tv2.dk.

If this is also the case in reality, one can probably treat insomnia by stimulating the brain to fall asleep, and one can also potentially stimulate the brain to wake up, which can be beneficial to coma patients.

“We see some patients spontaneously wake up from a coma. By stimulating the brain, you might be able to help them wake up. It would be absolutely fantastic,” said Kringelbach.

Read more about the research in the news story at tv2.dk here (In Danish)

The publication in PNAS can be found here

The Publication in Nature Communications can be found here