According to a new study published on this past week, a team neuroscientists at Florida Atlantic University have found “the first evidence genetic and neuronal changes that contribute to the evolution sleep loss”.
This new scientific discovery comes thanks to a little fish known as the Mexican tetra. This species fish exists in two different populations: the surface dwelling genus and its blind, cave-dwelling counterpart. With regular access to sunlight, the surface population requires around eight-hours sleep (similar to that humans) while the latter group requires a total two-hours every 24 hours.
Focusing on a neuropeptide called hypocretin or HCRT, researchers found that the cave-dwelling species fish contain more HCRT proteins than the species’ close-relatives who favor the sun. By exposing both populations to drugs that block HCRT receptors, it was discovered that the evolution sleep can be contributed to a species’ neural and genetic difference. On top this, the discovery proved that these differences in sleep behavior can be altered with the use drugs.
While the above statement seems like a statement the obvious (ie. Nyquil and Adderall), this new insight regarding the cavefish’s mechanisms which allow it to endure little sleep - without any physical consequences - may eventually lead humans towards the simulation a drug that can help us do the same.
In an interview with , neuroscientist and lead author the paper Alex Keene provides some insight into their latest discovery: “There are all sorts drugs to help induce sleep, or keep people awake. The interesting thing about cavefish is they appear to be healthy despite dramatic sleep loss. If we understand why, it might be possible to develop novel stimulants without the negative consequences that typically accrue with sleep loss.”
Be it at the library or in the club, we may very well see the development a drug in the future that will keep you swimming all night long without any the negative consequences to your health.