Sleep: We all do it, but why?

Apr 2, 2012

A scientist at Spokane’s Riverpoint campus has received a large grant to study one question: Why do humans sleep?

Scientist Jonathan Wisor has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how the brain processes glucose, which the body uses as a primary energy source.

"The purpose of the grant is to test our hypothesis that the very function of sleep is to reduce the brain's demand for glucose," he said, adding that the brain can detect when you've been awake all day and using glucose, and it forces itself to shut down, going into a mini-hibernation.

Wisor compares the process to people cleaning out a coal furnace. The furnace may have enough fuel to work, but it still has to be shut down so the soot and ash can be cleaned out. He says it’s the same for the brain.

"It's not that it's running out of glucose, it's not that it's running out of fuel. It's that it needs to clean out the bio-chemical equivalent of soot and ash that build up when we are constantly using the brain when we are awake."

In a press release, WSU wrote: Using an animal model, Wisor’s study will be the first to apply a novel, high-temporal resolution technique to measure changes in glucose metabolism over a very short time span (as short as seconds) while simultaneously measuring the brain’s electrical activity through electroencephalography (EEG). The two variables will be measured continuously during normal waking and sleeping activity, as well as during sleep deprivation.

Dr. Wisor will run lab tests to understand the use of glucose in healthy brains, hoping to apply the results to stroke, diabetes and other vulnerable states of the brain. All in an effort to answer the question: Why do we sleep?

"This is like, this is sort of the holy grail of our research endeavor."

By the way, how many hours does a sleep doctor rest each night? He says about seven.

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