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

    Comment number 108.

    So, they find more evidence that not everyone is the same

    The same wiring, affects everyones abilitys/capabilitys, inteligence & physique, which is why education fails so many because it is endemically a one option/provision & not suited to significant numbers of "problem" or slow learning children/students whos wiring is variant, & rectifying the continuously ignored problem = so many failures

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Last night I dreamt of a magazine article about sleep.
    It stated that "We learn as we sleep".

    I was posed a problem - Schrodinger Cat.
    If you dream of a dragon, it real dragon.
    On waking the dragon does not exist.
    The virtual world of thought and sleep are only pseudo reality.

    Thus a "myriad of future possibilities" do not really exist.
    There is a set past and a single but undecided future.


  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    As one that does suffer with occasional insomnia (3 shift worker.

    I won't be losing any sleep over this topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    We sleep to repair our bodies.
    Our minds are part of that equation, so to be ready for sleep we need to have tired brains as well as bodies.
    Going to bed with a tired body but with an active mind one will not get a good sleep. One will be thinking thinking thinking.... Insomnia!
    A good brain work out followed by resting it while doing some light exercise just before bed and you should sleep fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I am a long-term sufferer from insomnia. I recently read a book that made the suggestion (among others) of thinking my way through any scenario of my choice, "talking" myself through it in my head, in a V-E-R-Y s-l-o-w & b-o-r-i-n-g v-o-i-c-e..... etc. It works! Not 100% of the time, but enough to get me 3 or 4 nights' sleep per week. Brilliant!

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 102.


    "But force extered on Earth by ball is vastly smaller than force exerted on ball by Earth"

    The forces are the *same* (Newton's 3rd Law)

    The object with the smaller mass accelerates much faster (inversely proportional to mass) - Newton's 2nd Law.

    Two very small (but different) masses attracted to a very large one (Earth) accelerate towards it at the same rate. Galileo's experiment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    @74 fuzzy

    Actually neither "falls" as they mutually attract (as in Earth/Moon) and so they move towards (or around) each other

    But force extered on Earth by ball is vastly smaller than force exerted on ball by Earth

    And given masses involved acceleration (+ hence movement) of ball is vastly more than that of Earth

    Or - to put it another way - two balls do not move at same speed when released

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Whilst i love the science stories, this one is kind of obvious isnt it ?

    People struggle to concentrate when they dont sleep.... someone actually had to research that? :P

  • rate this

    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

    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

    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?

  • Comment number 96.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    "What's the chicken and what's the egg?” The researchers should have already designed logical experimental procedures to answer this question. This shows how unfair our government’s scientific funding is. It is operated by favors. Obviously this is not a good scientific project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Welsh Dragon
    "Gravity is not a force."

    Not sure why this post was marked down, because the statement above is absolutely correct. Nice to see proper understanding.

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I have a guaranteed cure for insomnia - tune in to BBC Parliament for half an hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    And the NHS is going to do WHAT?

    Look at Buckinghamshire NHS the hospitals are disgusting the Wycombe hospital is a good example - NO not the new pretty privately funded bit that is sucking up all the money - look at the old dilapidated building. The services are as bad as the building looks.

    The trust should be closed and put under a central administration and all Trusts should be monitored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I had insomnia. This article turned it into narcolepsy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Wow literally now means figuratively, that has quite literally blown my head off, but I won't lose any sleep over it.


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