A natural compound commonly extracted from sugarcane (shown here) may do wonders for our sleep.
A new study - published in the journal Scientific Reports - examines the effect of octacosanol in stressed sleep-deprived mice.
The research was carried out by a team of scientists led by Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade, both of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
Octacosanol is an antioxidant whose anti-inflammatory, anti-adipose tissue, and anticoagulant properties have previously been documented in studies referenced by the authors.
Kaushik and colleagues believe that in our modern, stressful world, we are in dire need of sleep-inducing therapies that can help to alleviate insomnia.
In addition to dramatically decreasing one's overall well-being, insomnia can lead to chronic sleep loss, which has been associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular illnesses, depression, and obesity.
Studying octacosanol in mice
For the new research, Kaushik and colleagues tested the effects of octacosanol in two groups of mice. One group had its cage changed so as to induce a mild sense of stress, which, in turn, disturbed the mice's sleep. The other group was kept in normal conditions.
Half of the mice in each group received 200 milligrams per kilogram of octacosanol orally, while the other half did not.
The team monitored the mice's sleep over a period of 24 hours after octacosanol administration. They also took blood tests that measured the blood plasma levels of corticosterone - which is an indicator of stress - and monitored the brain activity of the mice using an electroencephalogram (EEG).
With the help of the EEG, the scientists were able to tell how much time that the mice spent in light, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and in deep, non-REM sleep.
Octacosanol relieves stress, induces sleep
The findings revealed that while octacosanol had no bearing on normal mice, it did improve the sleep quantity and quality of the stressed mice. Neither REM nor non-REM sleep were in any way affected by the compound in normal mice.
However, in the mice whose cages had been changed, a dose of 100 and 200 milligrams per kilogram significantly increased the amount of time that they spent in deep, non-REM sleep.
They also had lower sleep latency - that is, it took them less time to transition from wakefulness to sleep compared with the stressed mice that did not receive the compound.
Octacosanol helped the stressed mice to sleep better, as revealed by the time that they spent awake and the time that they spent asleep.
The levels of the stress biomarker corticosterone were also "significantly reduced" after 200 milligrams per kilogram of octacosanol.
Overall, "octacosanol-induced changes in sleep-wake parameters in stressed mice were comparable to the values in normal mice," write the researchers.
"[T]hese data clearly showed that, though octacosanol does not alter normal sleep, it clearly alleviates stress and restores stress-affected sleep [...] For the first time, we demonstrated that octacosanol is a potent anti-stress compound with sleep-inducing potential," they add.
The authors also emphasize the advantages of octacosanol over the sleeping pills that are currently available.
"Being a natural compound and part of food materials are advantages over synthetic drug[s] and hence it can be assumed that octacosanol may be devoid of side effects or adverse reactions to [the] human body. Hence, we strongly suggest that octacosanol could be used as therapy for stress-induced insomnia."
But more work remains to be done, cautions Kaushik. Future research should try to identify the "target brain area of octacosanol, its [blood-brain barrier] permeability, and the mechanism via which octacosanol lowers stress," he adds.