London:  Coming soon: A cure for insomnia, according to an Indian-origin scientist-led team which claims to have identified a brain chemical that plays a key role in falling asleep and staying awake.

Subimal Datta and colleagues at Boston University have found that that a brain enzyme, calcium kinase, is linked to sleep -- in fact, too little of the chemical and the brain nods off, too much and it can't get to sleep.

In the study, the researchers focused on calcium kinase, which was known to be involved in sleep. They found that giving rats a drug that stopped the enzyme from getting to work in the brain made the animals sleep more.

Encouragingly, the doses used were minimal, according to the findings published in 'The Journal of Neuroscience'.    

"Sleep, one of the most mysterious regular shifts in consciousness, is regulated by a delicate balance between biological processes, the environment and behaviour, but the mechanisms involved in the regulation are not well understood.

"The ultimate goal of my research is to deepen the understanding of how sleep is regulated at the cellular level, which could lead to finding the causes and cures for a variety of sleep disorders.

"Current treatments for sleep disorders do not achieve the ideal behavioural outcome, and are usually accompanied by many undesirable side effects. A more specific, fine-tuned approach to treating these disorders by promoting alertness and treating insomnia would greatly benefit public health," a newspaper quoted Datta as saying.

Lack of sleep is linked to a host of health problems, from heart disease and memory loss to diabetes. Experts say loss of sleep can have a devastating effect on relationships that members of a couple should sleep in separate beds.

(Agencies)