A sleeping pill without side effects may appear on the horizon after the discovery of a "sleep switch" in the brain.
And the neural mechanism is also related to aging – we shed light on the fact that a lack of supervision can actually take years of your life.
During experiments, returning it with a flash of light caused an almost instant fly of fruit flies.
The gray matter of this humble insect is about the size of a poppy seed, containing about 100,000 neurons, versus 100 billion at home.
But it shares about 75% of the same genes and some behaviors, including sleep, are remarkably similar, making it the ideal animal model.
The Oxford University team hopes that the same thing will happen in humans – opening the door to a problem that spoils the lives of one in ten Britons.
Professor Gero Miesenbock, lead author, said: "Sleep disorders are very common and sleeping pills are among the most prescribed medications.
"But existing drugs carry risks of confusion, forgetfulness and dependence, and targeting the mechanism we have discovered could avoid some of these side effects."
The breakthrough could lead to new treatments for insomnia whose victims include a host of celebrities.
Madonnna, George Clooney, Lady Gaga and Kim Cattrall all spoke of their suffering.
The United Kingdom is one of the most affected countries in the world with more than 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills written each year.
The study published in Nature revealed that oxidative stress – a process causing aging of cells and degenerative diseases – also leads to sleep.
The functioning of sleep in the human brain has remained largely a mystery, some people can be dropped off in an instant, while others move and turn around all night.
The existence of a "sleep switch" in the brain was suggested for the first time two decades ago.
His discovery brings us closer to the search for a cure for sleep disorders.
It may also explain why, as suspected, chronic sleep deprivation is shortening life, the researchers said.
Professor Miesenbock, director of the Center for Neuronal Circuits and Behavior in Oxford, said: "It is no coincidence that oxygen tanks carry labels indicating the risk of explosion – uncontrolled combustion is dangerous.
"Animals, including humans, face a similar risk when they use the oxygen they breathe to convert food into energy – poorly controlled combustion results in" oxidative stress "in the cell.
"It is thought that this is a cause of aging and a culprit of the degenerative diseases that burn our last years.
"Our new research shows that oxidative stress also activates the neurons that control whether we sleep or not."
The fruit fly has a medical interest for decades, since it provided the first glimpse of the human biological clock almost half a century ago.
It has a special set of sleep control neurons, brain cells that are also found in other animals and that are thought to exist in humans.
The same team had already shown that it acted as an "on-off switch" – respectively, when the fly is electrically active or silent, she is asleep or awake.
The co-author, Dr. Seoho Song, said, "We decided to look for the signals that activate the sleep control neurons.
"According to our previous work, we knew that the main difference between sleep and waking was the amount of electrical current flowing through two ion channels, called Shaker and Sandman." During sleep, most of the current flowed through Shaker. . "
These are chemical pathways that generate and control the electrical impulses by which brain cells communicate.
Explained Dr. Song: "This posed the big and difficult question" Why are we sleeping? "in a concrete and solvable problem, what makes the electric current pass through Shaker?"
The team found that the answer was a component of the Shaker channel itself, called NADPH.
The lead co-author, Dr. Anissa Kempf, said: "Another element is hanging under the electrically conductive part of the Shaker, like the gondola under a hot air balloon.
"A passenger in the gondola, the small molecule NADPH, is shuttling between two chemical states – this regulates the current Shaker.
"The state of NADPH, in turn, reflects the degree of oxidative stress that the cell has experienced. Insomnia causes oxidative stress, which results in chemical conversion. "
In a striking demonstration, controlling it with a laser beam through a technique called optogenetics reversed the chemical state of NADPH – and put flies to sleep.
This could create a new generation of super effective sleeping pills. Drugs that target NADPH would be a potentially powerful type of sleeping pill, said Professor Miesenbock.
Poor regular sleep shortens your life expectancy, warns the NHS. It increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes and other chronic diseases.