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Scientists discover 'sleep switch' in brain

Scientists in the US believe they have found the part of the brain that controls a person's consciousness, which could serve as an 'on/off switch' that makes an individual fall asleep.

Researchers from the George Washington University said they located it by accident during an ongoing study of a patient with epilepsy.

The findings, which were published by the New Scientist, revealed the medical experts were using the Deep Brain Stimulation technique to try and discover the part of the female's brain that was causing her to have seizures.

Scientists said when they routinely placed one of the electrodes on a tiny sheet of neurons, then sent an electrical signal to it, the patient then lost consciousness. What's more, her speech slowed and her reactions became stalled.

As a result, the professionals suggested this sheet of neurons - known as the claustrum - could be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a package of sensations, emotions and thoughts.

Although the research was carried out on just one person, the scientists claimed they could now be a step closer in discovering how the human conscious awareness rises.

Professor Mohamad Koubeissi said: "I would liken it to a car, a car on the road has many parts that facilitate its movement - the gas, the transmission, the engine - but there's only one spot where you turn the key and it all switches on and works together. So while consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks - we may have found the key."

Earlier this year, research carried out in the UK drew similar conclusions to that in the US, suggesting that a switch in the brain could be used to trigger sleep.

As part of the study, scientists at Oxford University suggested that while the body clock plays a significant role in how sleep is brought about, it is in fact the sleep switch that determines tiredness based on pressure that has built up throughout the day.

Posted by Stewart ElliotADNFCR-2960-ID-801734038-ADNFCR

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