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Why is it hard to wake up on a winter’s morning? Scientists unlock clue behind sleeping habits

Why is it hard to wake up on a winter’s morning? Scientists unlock clue behind sleeping habits

The struggle to get up on a cold, winter's morning is a challenge many of us face. But how does the cold affect our sleep? Scientists have uncovered a fascinating clue - and it was discovered in the brain of a fruit fly.

Why is it hard to wake up on a winter’s morning? Scientists unlock clue behind sleeping habits

The team of neurobiologists from Northwestern University studied the fruit fly in order to understand the role of temperature and its affects on the sleep-wake cycle.

The study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, found a “thermometer” circuit in the fruit fly that relays information about the cold to the brain.

Through this circuit, cold and dark seasonal conditions can inhibit neurons that promote activity and wakefulness, especially in the morning.

“This helps explains why — for both flies and humans — it is so hard to wake up in the morning in winter,” said Marco Gallio, associate professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

For cold-blooded fruit flies, temperature is critical. Humans, despite their differences to the fruit fly, still seek out ideal temperatures as creatures of comfort. Part of the reasoning for this is that core and brain temperatures are linked to the induction and maintenance of sleep.

“Temperature sensing is one of the most fundamental sensory modalities,” said Gallio. “The principles we are finding in the fly brain — the logic and organization — may be the same all the way to humans. Whether fly or human, the sensory systems have to solve the same problems, so they often do it in the same ways.”

The scientists hope further study will help unlock more clues about the sleep cycle.

“We still do not fully understand how sleep is produced and regulated within the brain and how changes in external conditions may impact sleep drive and quality,” says co-author, Michael H. Alpert.

They say the findings demonstrate the importance of functional studies for understanding how the brain governs behaviour.

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