When brain scientist Birgitte Kornum (photo), PhD, from the Department of Neuroscience, University of Copenhagan, recently arrived in Rome for one of the largest sleep conferences in the world, she was completely taken aback. There were pharmaceutical companies everywhere – with stands, information material, and campaigns. They all wanted to treat daytime sleepiness or to turn off the brain at night. And a lot of them focused on hypocretin, which is a protein found in brain cells and which has recently attracted a lot of attention within sleep research. This is because hypocretin is suspected to play a role in both insomnia, which is a decreased ability to fall asleep at night, and in narcolepsy, which is a decreased ability to stay awake during the day. People suffering from insomnia may have too much hypocretin in the brain, while people suffering from narcolepsy have too little. Researchers also suspect hypocretin to play a role in depression, ADHD, and other mental disorders.
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