Researchers have identified a novel gene, known as SLEEPLESS, in flies. The researchers believe that the SLEEPLESS gene is required for normal sleep processes. SLEEPLESS is the second gene that has been directly implicated in sleep regulation and may eventually lead to new ways to help improve sleep quality in humans.

Kyunghee Koh and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania found that a loss of the SLEEPLESS protein caused up to an 85% reduction in daily sleep. Some of the flies lacking the SLEEPLESS protein did not sleep at all.

Flies with moderately reduced levels of the SLEEPLESS protein were not as severely affected, but experienced shorter periods of recovery sleep after being deprived of it. The researchers suggest that the SLEEPLESS protein is released in the brain to cause the urge to sleep by reducing the excitability of nerve cell membranes.

The full study is published in the journal Science.