Old Age: ‘Hyperexcitable Neurons’ Interrupt Sleep

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.

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

Shi-Bin Li, PhD, is an instructor in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department at Stanford Medicine. He is also a basic life research scientist in the de Lecea lab, and is the lead author of the study. Lisa Kim is Senior Manager of Media Relations for Stanford Medicine and Stanford Health Care. Lisa has a deep background in journalism, as she is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who has covered stories on both the national and local levels.