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Researcher proposes possible new theory on why we sleep

Dr. Rodolfo Soca
Bozeman Health
Dr. Rodolfo Soca

A Bozeman Health Sleep Specialist is working to break ground on the fundamental role of sleep. He recently published a paper on a possible new reason we need shut eye.

“Why do we sleep?” That’s the question a sleep researcher at Bozeman Health is trying to answer in a recently published paper.

As Yellowstone Public Radio’s Orlinda Worthington reports, the answer is not as obvious as we might think.

“It sounds silly that we do not know why we sleep.”

Dr. Rodolfo Soca is the Medical Director for the Sleep Medicine Clinic at Bozeman Health . He recently published a research paper that proposes a new theory on why humans sleep.

“So medicine has been kind of going crazy for the last 100 years trying to figure out what is sleep,” Dr. Soca said.

Dr. Soca began thinking maybe sleep research was going in the wrong direction. He partnered with MSU mathematician Dr. Tomas Gedeon, and a neurologist at Northwestern University to explore a new theory for why we sleep - entropy.

“Entropy deals with disorder and order, and it's kind of a broad, weird concept that comes from physics. It's a very difficult thing. So we were thinking, well, maybe if we are out of options in medicine, maybe it's something else, something that is hard to measure,” Soca said.

The team worked to examine the way the brain produces and stores information that could better explain sleep.

“As we interact with the world, and as we metabolize sugars and generate energy, the process of being alive generates a little bit of disorder. The brain is like a wonderful machine. Like, it's very organized. If it's disorganized, like, then things don't work well. And that's why we need to sleep to reorganize things in a simpler way,” Soca said.

Unlike most research papers, this one does not draw a conclusion. Instead, it proposes a new route for additional, future research.

“We know that processing information, like listening to the environment, looking at things, seems to be probably the key because that's what animals do when they're asleep. And that's why we felt, maybe this is an option, this entropy it's new and nobody had a thought about it,” Soca said.

Dr. Soca hopes his paper will incentivize others to explore new research and experiments on the mystery of slumber. He feels the more we all know… the better for everyone.

“That has huge implications. How do we know that that pilot is really, slept well and is ready to fly and do his or her job? Things like that will only be possible when we know what exactly is sleep,” Soca said.

In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.