A new study from The Netherlands examined regional brain volume in people with insomnia.
The study involved 24 adults with chronic primary insomnia. They were between the ages of 52 and 74 years. Seventeen of them were women. They were compared with 13 people who had no sleep problems.
Results show that people with insomnia had a smaller volume of gray matter in the left orbitofrontal cortex. This reduction in gray matter was strongly correlated with the severity of insomnia.
The NINDS reports that “gray matter” refers to the cerebral cortex. This is where the brain does most of its information processing. The cortex is a layer of tissue with a gray-colored appearance.
The study also found reduced gray matter volume in the precuneus. This cortical area may have a central role in tasks such as episodic memory retrieval.
A press release noted that the affected brain regions play a role in evaluating pleasure. They also have a role in the brain’s “resting state.”
Most people with insomnia have “secondary” insomnia. It occurs along with another medical problem, mental illness or sleep disorder. It also may result from the use of a medication or substance. In contrast primary insomnia is unrelated to another health problem.
A 2008 study in the journal Sleep linked primary insomnia to low levels of a brain chemical. Results show that GABA levels are reduced by 30 percent in adults with chronic primary insomnia.
Last year a study proposed that “cooling the brain” may be a new way to treat insomnia. Subjective benefits were reported by 75 percent of participants.
Read more about insomnia. Get help for an ongoing sleep problem at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.