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Hyperexcitable arousal neurons drive sleep instability in old mice, study finds

House mouse curled up in its nest

By Hugh Biggar

For many older adults, a good night’s rest is elusive. The implications of chronically poor sleep can be far-reaching and include a decline in cognitive functioning and detrimental effects on health and general well-being.

Fortunately, relief may be in sight. A new study led by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that neurons in the lateral hypothalamus, a brain region, play a pivotal role in sleep loss in old mice. More specifically, the arousal-promoting hypocretin neurons become hyperexcitable, driving sleep interruptions. 

The finding could pave the way to new drug treatments for age-related sleep problems in humans, said the study’s senior author, Luis de Lecea, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

“Together with nutrition, exercise and relaxation, sleep is the fourth pillar essential for healthy living, and sleep disruption is highly intertwined with neuropsychiatric disorders,” de Lecea said.