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Study finds fish suffer insomnia

US - Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying the mysteries of sleep have discovered a new model for their research and it's swimming around their laboratory.

Emmanuel Mignot, the Stanford scientist who discovered the cause of narcolepsy first in dogs and later in humans, has successfully shown that common zebrafish can develop insomnia.

The finding paves the way for future study of humans, who have many of the same sleep-producing chemicals, he said Monday.

"Why we have to sleep is still a big mystery," Mignot said. And scientists have yet to figure out cures for many of the sleepproblems that ail an enormous segment of the population.

Insomnia alone disturbs between 10 and 15 percent of adults, while half the population in general has problems sleeping, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's Web site.

But zebrafish may provide some answers. Because they are transparent, researchers can easily observe their internal functioning. And as vertebrates, zebrafish are more similar to humans than fruit flies, a common lab model. Also, because zebrafish are cheap and easy to breed, scientists can pick from thousands of fish to find useful specimens with key genetic mutations, said Mignot and senior research associate Philippe Mourrain.