A new study found that dopamine and dreams are more intertwined than previously thought and this connection could pave the way to new sleep medications.

Researchers found that increased levels of dopamine in an important part of the brain helped mice make the transition from non-rapid eye movement, or NREM, to REM sleep, the portion of the night where your dreams typically happen. A team led by the University of Tsukuba published its findings this month in the journal Science.

The findings could point to a new drug target for REM sleep disorders and potentially Parkinson’s disease, because dopamine signaling is disrupted in that neurodegenerative condition, neurology professors from Harvard and the University of California wrote in a related perspective piece.

Dopamine was increasingly activated in the basolateral amygdala region of the mice’s brain in the build up to REM sleep but not before NREM transitioned back to a waking state, according to the researchers at the University of Tsukuba.

The researchers wanted to know whether dopamine also played a role in triggering cataplexy. The sudden loss of muscle control is a sign of the sleeping disorder narcolepsy, which disrupts REM sleep and causes drowsiness throughout the day.

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