Insomniacs May Have Hyperactive Brains

Insomniacs May Have Hyperactive Brains

A new research study has been examining the brains of individual who have insomnia and comparing them with people who are able to sleep soundly through the night and found that insomniacs may have hyperactive brains . Researchers who were at Johns Hopkins University discovered there seemed to be more action, adaptability to change and an increase in the volatility of neurons that were located inside the motor cortex of the brains of people who had insomnia.

For the research study, which was printed up in the science journal Sleep, scientists examined almost 30 adults. Nearly 20 of them had suffered from insomnia for a full year or longer, and around 10 were considered good sleepers. The participants had 65 electrical pulses placed on their thumbs. They also had electrodes that were placed around their skulls. The scientists were then able to accurately and painlessly transport electromagnetic streams to certain parts of the brain.

In order to figure out brain flexibility, the research team studied brain activity with electroencephalograms. All the information was saved which was collected about the test subjects involuntary thumb movements in reaction to the pulses. The contributors also had to wear accelerometers in order to be able to keep track of the speed and direction of all their thumb actions.

Then, the scientists spent a half hour with all the participants training them to move their thumbs in the opposite direction, contrary to the track of their involuntary movements. They linked the participants’ capability of how to learn to move their thumbs in the new direction as being an indicator of having increased brain flexibility.

The researchers were expecting the elasticity to be greater with the good sleepers; but they found something else.  They discovered that the individuals who had insomnia were the ones who truly seemed to have more evidence of better brain flexibility. However, they have yet to figure out what the plasticity really meant and if it was something good or something bad.

The real trouble is that nearly 15% of American adults suffer from insomnia. The researchers discovered that the fundamental theory of why some people may be frequently bad sleepers may be because their brains might be in a state of constantly being on. Their brains want to continue to operate at high levels even when it is time for their brains to be calming down at nighttime. When insomniacs finally are able to go to sleep, their brains are layered with more waking patterns than those of people who are able to have a good night’s sleep. Their brain waves even appear different from people who are able to sleep well. Usually in regular sleep, brain waves slow down, become synchronous and then go into a pleasant delta wave for deep sleep. Insomniacs might get to delta sleep, but they end up having faster rhythms.

Insomniacs also appear to have higher amounts of the stress chemical cortisol. They also have more total activity in the brain when paralleled with good sleepers. So while the flexibility was a startling discovery, it was not completely unexpected. Such a find fit with the whole idea of arousal in insomniacs. The light switch stays on so there is amplified excitability and that might be why there is the increased chemical.

For the time being it is still not clear which was first,  whether insomniacs have brains that are naturally more active and thus this ends up robbing them of sleep, or if the chronic sleep interruptions ends up causing hyper-arousal. The research team hopes to find out the answer to those questions with more in-depth studies. When an insomnia patient is given an easy task, they might do very well, just as good as a person who sleeps well, but the second they are given something much more complicated, that is when they begin to break down.

Yet now that the brains of individuals who have insomnia may be over excited, and that may lead to new studies which target the hyper-arousal as a possible treatment. This latest study of what has been keeping insomniacs awake might aid them in getting their brains to calm down so they can finally get some much needed sleep.

The research study examined the brains of individual who have insomnia and compared them with people who were able to sleep soundly through the night

By Kimberly Ruble


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