Sleep Study Part 4: Human Peptide Hypocretin Linked to Happiness

happiness

Happiness may not come from your family, friends, or wealth, at least according to a new study. Rather, it comes from a peptide.

Led by the University of California Los Angeles, an international team of researchers has linked levels of hypocretin (a human peptide and neurotransmitter) to happiness. They found that the levels of hypocretin soared when we are happy, and also decreased when we are sad.

Narcolepsy, Depression, and Happiness Sleep Study Details

The study, which is published online in the journal Nature Communications, consisted of eight patients with epilepsy. As part of the study to examine the relationship of narcolepsy and depression to hypocretin, the patients had electrodes implanted in their brains in order for the scientists to continuously monitor both seizure activity and hypocretin levels. The levels were monitored while the patients watched television, ate, fell asleep, awoke from sleep, and interacted with family, nurses, and physicians.

A previous study found that people who suffer from narcolepsy, (a sleep disorder marked by frequent sleeping) have reduced levels of hypocretin peptides in their cerebral spinal fluid.

The team, led by Dr. Jerome Siegel of the V.A. greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, the study leader and a psychiatry professor at U.C.L.A., also measured the levels of melanin concentrating hormone, or MCH, another peptide. What they found was that MCH was released minimally in the waking state, but was greatly higher during sleep. This finding suggests a key role MCH has in making us feel sleepy.

“The current findings explain the sleepiness of narcolepsy, as well as the depression that frequently accompanies this disorder,” said senior author Prof Jerome Siegel of the University of California Los Angeles’ Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “The findings also suggest that hypocretin deficiency may underlie depression from other causes.”

Overall, hypocretin levels were found to increase when we’re waking up, while MCH levels increase during the onset of sleep. The scientists found that MCH levels were maximized during sleep, but minimized during social interactions. On the other hand, hypocretin levels were not found to be associated with arousal, but were maximized upon awakening, social interactions, and during episodes of anger or positive emotions.

nuerons in the brain

Implications

The study findings have implications for both narcolepsy and depression, as the two often go hand in hand.

Several pharmaceutical companies are in development plans of using hypocretin in sleeping pills, with the suggestion that these new drugs will have the potential to alter mood as well as sleep.

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