Why do we Fall Asleep when Bored?

Discovering the brain mechanisms that govern the regulation of sleep.


A new study by the University of Tsukuba suggests the reason behind why we often fall asleep during boring times. Humans often challenge sleepy behavior where there is alertness required, but also experience an inescapable desire to sleep in boring situations.

All living organisms with a nervous system, exhibit sleep or sleep-like behavior as a neurological function. But, the mechanisms that govern the regulation of sleep by cognitive and emotional factors are not well understood.

According to the study, sleep regulation is governed by the part of the brain called nucleus accumbens. Scientists here used chemo-genetic and optical techniques to identify how nucleus accumbens neurons work and how they mediate behaviors.

They found that nucleus accumbens neurons have an extremely strong ability to induce sleep that is indistinguishable from the major component of natural sleep, known as slow-wave sleep. This slow wave sleep is distinguished by slow and high-voltage brain waves.

Yo Oishi, the lead author of the study explained, “The classic somnogen adenosine is a strong candidate for evoking the sleep effect in the nucleus accumbens. Adenosine has long been known to represent a state of relative energy deficiency and to induce sleep via adenosine receptors. A specific subtype of adenosine receptors, the A2A receptors, are densely expressed in the nucleus accumbens.”

“Caffeine, the most widely consumed psychostimulant in the world, produces its arousal effect also in the nucleus accumbens by blocking A2A receptors. Compounds that activate A2A receptors in the nucleus accumbens may open safe therapeutic avenues for treating insomnia, which is one of the most common sleep problems with an estimated prevalence of 10-15% in the general population and 30-60% in the older population.”


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