A team of MIT researchers were able to trigger REM sleep in mice using a technique that shines light directly on mouse neurons.

The technique helps to clarify the mechanism by which REM sleep is controlled, and is a step toward understanding how to design natural sleep in humans, Van Dort says. Existing drugs used by insomniacs actually repress both REM and the deeper stages of non-REM sleep, and instead put users into a very light sleep state. “Figuring out how each of the components of sleep is controlled can help us design a way of reproducing natural sleep with different drugs in the future,” she says.