US researchers have found that 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.
Brain scans of people with insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night’s sleep
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 preliminary research suggests that web addiction is reflected in brain changes similar to those hooked on drugs or alcohol addiction.
Experts in China scanned the brains of 17 young web addicts and found disruption in the way their brains were wired up.
The researchers say the discovery, published in Plos One, could lead to new treatments for addictive behaviour.
Internet addiction is a clinical disorder marked by out-of-control internet use.
The research team led by Dr. Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan carried out brain scans of 35 men and women aged between 14 and 21.
Seventeen of them were classed as having internet addiction disorder (IAD) on the basis of answering yes to questions such as, “Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?”
Specialized MRI brain scans showed changes in the white matter of the brain – the part that contains nerve fibres – in those classed as being web addicts, compared with non-addicts.
There was evidence of disruption to connections in nerve fibres linking brain areas involved in emotions, decision making, and self-control.
Dr. Hao Lei and colleagues write in Plos One: “Overall, our findings indicate that IAD has abnormal white matter integrity in brain regions involving emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.
“The results also suggest that IAD may share psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of substance addiction and impulse control disorders.”
Prof. Gunter Schumann, chair in biological psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, said similar findings have been found in video game addicts.
He said: “For the first time two studies show changes in the neuronal connections between brain areas as well as changes in brain function in people who are frequently using the internet or video games.”
Commenting on the Chinese study, Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, consultant psychiatrist and honorary senior lecturer at Imperial College London, said the research was “groundbreaking”.
She added: “We are finally being told what clinicians suspected for some time now, that white matter abnormalities in the orbito-frontal cortex and other truly significant brain areas are present not only in addictions where substances are involved but also in behavioural ones such as internet addiction.”
Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones said further studies with larger numbers of subjects were needed to confirm the findings.