Insomniacs' brains lose focus, scans suggest

Woman with insomnia

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    After the display of journalism I witness from the bbc over the past few days I can honestly say I will never trust another thing printed or uttered from them.

    Rename yourself to GBC. Government Broadcasting Corporation

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    But I think it is interesting a person who thinks that they have not slept well may not have had much less less sleep than someone who thinks they have had enough sleep. I suffer from insomnia, but understanding that this "condition" is partly a mis-conception is hugely helpful. It means that I need not lose yet more sleep getting worried about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


    Smart phones, laptops (with bright screens and constant info) literally burn holes through your brain.
    I think you need to consider the meaning of the word "literally" because I don't think technology does "literally" burn holes through your brain, otherwise people would be able to see through your head!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    For those of us with insomnia who find it difficult to hold down a job,it's nice to have what we already know confirmed. Maybe one day insomnia will be taken more seriously and perhaps even considered a disability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Scientists don't take the bleeding obvious to be true without first checking that it is actually true. If you don't do that, and just assume the 'obvious' is true, then you're not a scientist you're a priest (and you're resultant theories are worthless, having been built on old wives' tales). Just a thought (not that many of you are capable of such, going by your comments)

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    It would seem that big assumptions have been made from a small sample size. Did they take into account IQ, sex of subjects, race and ethnicity, diet, etc?

    I find a couple of G & Ts help me sleep despite the poor memory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I'm 100% certain modern day technology causes the vast cases of insomnia.

    Smart phones, laptops (with bright screens and constant info) literally burn holes through your brain.

    I'm a web designer - when I'm most busy with work - my sleep is poor.

    When I take a week off, go to the countryside and go "offline" - I sleep like a baby.

    Hard to earn a living offline these days though - so catch 22

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.



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

    - A.R.Shams's Reflection

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    It's all the worrying news on BBC that keeps me awake at night,what with some freshwater mussels in danger of dying out and Mexico sending it's finest Tequila to China, oh what to do what to do?
    How can the BBC editors sleep at night after bombarding us with such horrific news is beyond me .
    I'm off to see my Doctor for help to calm my nerves !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This is true in other mental disorders eg autism - the brain fails to turn of a task so it keeps working on it, going around and around or others they think they're just going on and on about something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Clearly the researcher has never had insomnia. Has he now written a paper on this?
    Insomnia causes poor memory - well who could ever have guessed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    As Paul says it is obvious what is happeneing in the brain. I have very disturbed sleep because day and night I have two thought processes running, non-stop.

    It is not science to prove this!! However, as the saying goes, go to bed with a problem and wake up with the solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "....I used to worry, thought I was going mad in a hurry. Gettin' stressed makin' excess mess in darkness. No electricity something's all over me, greasy insomnia please release me...."

    Sorry this is the kind of response the article deserves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The report appears to state that most people who can't sleep get tired (!) Everybody knows this. Why is this news ? If these scientists haven't discovered something useful, why are they making a report about it and why is the BBC including it in News ? Is this the silly-season ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    News just in :

    Bears defecate in woods.

    It's Saturday on HYS.

    Be prepared to expect the expected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    That explains it.......Milliband has insomnia

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This article amounts to the fact that researchers have seen a difference in a brain scan between someone with insomnia and someone without. Without stating the bleedin obvious wasn't this likely from the off...if not a certainty? It's almost as ridiculous as the research that was carried out that concluded people could concentrate better in rural areas compared to urban areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    What a fascinating story! I learned so much from this. :-/

    I considered the BBC to be one of the world's premier sources of news and educational articles, but it's become increasingly superficial. Journalists pushing their own opinion and failing to ask the critical questions, educational articles aimed at the lowest common denominator. As if BBC News is being produced by the EastEnders team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Even the Journal this non story is published in is called "Sleep"

    Perhaps the cure for insomnia would be reading it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I love it that I now have a (good) reason for my terrible memory! Keep smiling


Page 8 of 9


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.