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The Neurotransmitters of Sleep

Jerome M. Siegel, PhD

Published: December 15, 2004

Article Abstract

The part of the brain most important in regulating sleep duration is the hypothalamus. Certaingroups of hypothalamic neurons and adjacent groups of basal forebrain neurons produce the neurotransmitterγ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Projections of these GABA neurons inhibit the firing ofcells involved in wakefulness. Several groups of neurons have been shown to be inhibited by thisaction—including neurons containing histamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, hypocretin, and glutamate—and this inhibition promotes sleep. Hypocretin (also called orexin) was discovered in 1998,and its role in sleep and narcolepsy was identified in 2001. Other as-yet undiscovered transmitters areundoubtedly involved in sleep control. The transmitters discussed in this article have been the mostthoroughly studied, and many aspects of the role of each of these transmitters in relation to sleep arereasonably well understood.

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