On the more mundane front, advances in anesthesiology might also help with treatments for insomnia—but not in the ways one might think.
Traditional treatments often work on the same mechanisms as the drugs given to anesthetize patients before surgery, thus helping people conk out, but not necessarily replicating normal sleep patterns. By taking a closer look at the mechanisms at work during general anesthesia—and how some of the more widely prescribed sleeping meds behave in the brain—"we can ask 'is that the way we want to [treat insomnia]?'" Brown explains.
And those advances in turn could feed back into the field of anesthesiology, helping to reduce side effects of general anesthesia, such as postoperative cognitive decline. Better understanding of the coma-like state of general anesthesia could also shed light on patients who are in a more permanent vegetative state, who upon waking go through very similar stages as those coming up from general anesthesia—albeit much more slowly. The key, says Brown, is "taking time to understand these mechanisms" and applying them to fine tune the proverbial hammer—a challenge that he and his colleagues hope to announce progress on in the coming months.