Previous research has tied sleep deprivation to depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. Previous research has tied sleep deprivation to depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. Previous research has tied sleep deprivation to depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. (Photo: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock)

There's a reason you're not getting enough sleep, and it might surprise you

Frequent wakeups have a fascinating biological explanation, according to a new study.

Why does something as simple as a good night's sleep seem so elusive sometimes? There's no rhyme or reason to it, nothing obvious keeping you awake other than your overactive brain – so why can't you just get some good, solid shut-eye?

Science now has one more explanation for why you keep waking up multiple times per night. And it goes all the way back to your neurons. It's a concept called "neuronal noise," which basically means an uptick in the activity of neurons in your brain, causing wakefulness. And, in another surprising finding, some of this activity seems to be linked to temperature.

"We came up with this hypothesis that arousals during sleep are from neuronal noise from brain neurons," study co-author Ronny Bartsch, a physics professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told IFLScience.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, included an international team of researchers from the U.S., Bulgaria and Israel.

A 3D illustration of pulses of neurons in the brain. A 3D illustration of pulses of neurons in the brain. (Photo: Romanova Natali / Shutterstock)

So, OK. An eye-opening explanation for why you're not getting the sleep you need. So what?

Here's what. If scientists can understand what role temperature has in the interruptions of sleep, they might also be able to prevent conditions like SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and sleep apnea. So, for example, putting an infant in a warmer room might make them more likely to sleep through life-threatening conditions, like breathing obstructions.

In more immediate terms, however, learning what neuronal noise does to your sleep can simply help you find more ideal conditions at night, in order to avoid getting up several times. “Sleep arousals can last on the order of a second to a minute,” said Bartsch. “Usually they are quite short, and you won’t remember them in the morning. The problem is when they get too long, you start to wake up and do other things.”

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