JOHN BAVOSI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY JOHN BAVOSI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Action of sleeping drugs. Illustration showing the action of various sleeping drugs on nerve cells. The two blue structures are the ends of nerve cells, which meet at a gap called a synapse. Sleeping drugs work by mimicking the action of a natural molecule called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, red spheres). When GABA molecules are released by one nerve cell they travel across the synapse and bind with receptor molecules on the other side, triggering the opening of chloride channels (left). Chloride ions (purple) then pass through, making the receptor nerve cell less excitable and promoting sleep. Sleeping drugs like benzodiazepines trigger the same mechanism.
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