Insomnia and the Brain

July 4, 2018
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Insomnia is less a nighttime disorder than it is a 24-hour brain condition.  Think of it like your brain being constantly turned on – observing, analyzing, processing without a break.  Sleep is critical to our health because those precious 8 hours are when our bodies recover the most.  So if we’re not sleeping, our brains aren’t recovering either.  Just like any other organ, it requires TLC, nourishment, and reprieve.

In viewing the MRI films of an insomniac, it has been observed that his/her brain does not know how to prioritize information when working on a task.  Instead of tuning out information that is irrelevant to the completion of a task, the brain takes in all the information, even the things that a healthy brain views as a distraction.  Upon attempting to use their memory for the next task, they were unable to recruit more parts of the brain to find the place the information is being stored.  This shows a correlation that insomnia is as much of a day time problem as it is a night time one.  I imagine that we’ve all encountered this focus issue at some point or another when we didn’t get our recommended 8-10 hours.  Things that would normally require little concentration to do: grocery shop, make quick phone call, or even make an order in the drive through can be challenging.  Now imagine trying to do life like this…….exhausting in every sense of the word.   Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in war because it works; you literally go out of your mind because you are not giving the body what it needs to recover – SLEEP!

As if thinking about our brains struggling to work isn’t enough, the actual brain tissue is also affected.  Lack of sleep/poor sleep quality over time has been shown to reduce gray matter volume in the frontal lobe.  The frontal lobe is critical because it helps control working memory and executive function….pretty important, ey?

Ok, we’ve gone through what’s actually happening to the brain by looking at it as a single organ.  Tomorrow, I’m going to discuss the chemical imbalances associated with insomnia and ways to combat the symptoms by identifying the root cause.  Stay tuned!

Your heart is the greatest healer of your life.  And your soul is the heart of your life.  Let’s start living, folks.  Today starts now.  Until we meet again, this is Dr. Higgins saying, good bye.