Less Sleep Less Brain

Friday 29th January 2010

For the first time a study shows a strong correlation between lack of sleep and a smaller amount of “grey matter” in certain parts of the brain. This increases concern as to the severity of particular sleeping disorders, such as insomnia, as it is evident that not only do they take their toll on the sufferer’s wellbeing but it now appears their brains could be suffering too.

The study was conducted by a research group called Eus van Someren who are based at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam and has been published in this month’s edition of Biological Psychiatry. Their research involved the use of a complicated procedure, voxel-based morphometry which basically allows the doctor to access and focus on different parts of the brain. Using this device the researchers looked at healthy individuals with no previous problems with sleep disorders and chronic insomniacs who were psychologically healthy. They calculated the brain volume of each patient and found that the left orbitofrontal cortex was of a smaller volume in the chronic insomniacs. These regions of the brain are associated with several different functions, one of which is the “resting” state. Thus, the more severe the insomnia the less volume they have in this area which could be a contributing factor to the lack of comfort they feel when they are trying to sleep as this area of the brain also controls the evaluation of pleasantness.

Thus, the findings have spurred further investigations into just what affect insomnia is having on its sufferers. Before this test was conducted it was already noted that in many psychiatric conditions insomnia is playing an additional part. However, it now begs the question as to whether or not insomnia is a contributing factor towards the development of psychiatric conditions. Evidently, insomnia is having a damaging affect on the brain and if left untreated it could lead to a whole host of further problems for the sufferer.

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