Insomniacs' brains lose focus, scans suggest

 
Woman with insomnia

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Brain scans of people who say they have insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night's sleep.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, said the poor sleepers struggled to focus part of their brain in memory tests.

Other experts said that the brain's wiring may actually be affecting perceptions of sleep quality.

The findings were published in the journal Sleep.

People with insomnia struggle to sleep at night, but it also has consequences during the day such as delayed reaction times and memory.

The study compared 25 people who said they had insomnia with 25 who described themselves as good sleepers. MRI brain scans were carried out while they performed increasingly challenging memory tests.

One of the researchers, Prof Sean Drummond, said: "We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off 'mind-wandering' brain regions irrelevant to the task.

"This data helps us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day."

A sleep researcher in the UK, Dr Neil Stanley, said that the quality of the sleep each group was having was very similar, even though one set was reporting insomnia.

He said: "What's the chicken and what's the egg? Is the brain different and causing them to report worse sleep?

"Maybe they're perceiving what happened in the night differently; maybe what is affecting their working memory and ability to focus on the task at hand is also causing insomnia."

 

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  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 103.

    Just accepting that your natural sleep pattern isn't the "recommended" 8 hours a night every night can help. I usually sleep 7 hours, and often I'm awake an hour or two in the very early morning, but as long as I don't panic about being awake I seem to be fine, it's just me. My granddad slept 4 hours a night all his life and was still doing Yoga every morning in his 80s :-)

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 99.

    I used to have a lot of trouble getting off to sleep. I could easily lay awake for 3-4 hours chewing over events of the previous day. Trying to shut myself up didn't work as that just made me more stressed.

    I found the simplest trick was to read a text/study book on a subject that was brain-numbing.

    EU law always did it for me.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 98.

    I suffer from insomnia and have found that one of the causes is tension in the back and neck which stop me from relaxing properly. Chiropractic treatment sometimes helps, sometimes just changing my sleep position enables me to 'drop off'. I have also recently found a definite benefit replacing some of my milk intake with lactofree milk, it also seems to help with anxiety.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 97.

    I have never been able to fall asleep straight away. Even when absolutely knackered if I go to bed I lie awake for an hour or two. Strangely though I have no trouble dropping off while watching television.

    Is this the television occupying the wandering part of my brain or a reflection on the quality of programming?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 88.

    Is insomnia is affecting memory and ability to focus while awake, or are these a problem that contribute to insomnia? I wake approximately every two hours or less, so not going into a deep enough sleep and rarely remember dreams any more. When I wake I quickly go into rational mode yet know I'm drifting off when surreal thoughts and visions begin. Conflict between left brain and right brain?

 

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