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Insomniacs have different brains! Weird brains! Super tired brains. God, I hate my insomnia.
Anthony Carboni here for DNews and I had the worst insomnia from junior high almost all
the way up through college. It's awful. You're always drained, you can't think straight,
you're depressed. While insomnia can be a symptom of a lot of things, we've never really
pinpointed what the physiological change is in the body that makes it happen specifically.
Now, I never saw a specialist about it, but I'm pretty sure I had Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder-
it's common in teenagers and it basically means your circadian rhythm is all off-balance-
your biological clock doesn't match up with the day and night cycle. It can get less severe
as you get older- mine only happens for a couple weeks a time now, then goes away for
a bit.
Insomnia can also be caused by psychological things like stress or physical issues like
sleep apnea. But researchers looking to start treating insomnia at the biological root of
the problem found a potential culprit: plasticity in the brain's motor cortex.
We've talked about neuroplasticity before: its your brain's ability to adapt and change
to different stimuli and situations. It means if you want to change your habits or get better
at something, you can because your brain will adapt to it eventually. The going theory was
that since people who suffer from insomnia have decreased memory and a hard time concentrating
and retaining information, their brains would be less plastic. Maybe being unable to process
all that daytime info leads to sleeping problems.
But a new study out of Johns Hopkins university says no- an insomniac's motor cortex is more
adaptable than someone who can sleep easily. They hooked up some healthy sleepers and insomniacs
to electrodes and tried some transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS on them. Basically,
it delivers precise levels of electrical currents to parts of the brain- but not in a weird,
shock therapy, seen it in the movies way. In a more controlled, FDA approved, let's study
the brain and try to help people sort of way.
So, they basically trained the sleeping subjects, using TMS, to move their thumbs in a certain
way in reaction to stimulation. I feel like the more I explain this, the less safe TMS
is actually going to sound. AAAAANYWAY. Then they tried to retrain the subjects to have
their thumbs move in the OTHER direction. And the insomniacs adapted to the change much
more easily.
So- what does that mean? Is neuroplasticity bad? Is it causing insomnia or is it from the brain
of an insomniac trying help the body cope with all the other physical and emotional
stresses that come with a lack of sleep?
This is where I go "The researchers aren't sure," and you all groan, thumbs down and throw rotten
vegetables at me. But here's what's good and exciting about the research: if the overly
changeable motor cortex is connected to releasing all the stress hormones and causing all the
other emotional issues of insomnia, TMS could be used to calm the brain down and help people
get into the habit of healthy sleep. It'll also make diagnosing legitimate insomnia much
easier- right now there's no way to objectively test for it, so a lot of people think they're
insomniacs when they have other, more easily treatable issues- and vice versa.
In the meantime, if you're up, you can always tweet at me. There's a good chance I am up, too
You know, also thumb up the video. You're just sitting up in the dark. Just thumb up the video.
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What Makes Insomniac Brains Different?

13432 Folder Collection
張育崧 published on November 26, 2016    Sih Jing translated    Mandy Lin reviewed
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