A newly released study has revealed that the emotional brain circuitry in sufferers of insomnia operate differently than that of a control group of normal sleepers.
The study’s authors explained that this change is the primary reason as to why some people are at higher risk for depression when suffering from chronic insomnia.
“Insomnia has been consistently identified as a risk factor for depression. Alterations in the brain circuitry underlying emotion regulation may be involved in the pathway for depression, and these results suggest a mechanistic role for sleep disturbance in the development of psychiatric disorders,” said Peter Franzen, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
The clinical study consisted of 14 subjects with primary insomnia and 30 people with an absence of sleep difficulties. All participants were neurologically monitored while performing tasks geared toward the controlling of sets of emotions. Subjects were shown neutral or negative or images and were than asked to alternate between seeing them passively or to lower their emotional responses. A technique called ‘cognitive reappraisal’ was used to lower emotional responses to the negative images.
In the primary insomnia group, amygdala brain region activity was considerably higher during the reappraisal period than during the neutral, passive viewing of images. The amygdala plays an vital role in overall emotional processing and regulation.
“Previous studies have demonstrated that successful emotion regulation using reappraisal decreases amygdala response in healthy individuals, yet we were surprised that activity was even higher during reappraisal of, versus passive viewing of, pictures with negative emotional content in this sample of individuals with primary insomnia,” said Franzen in a news release.
Chronic insomnia consists of two primary factors, not falling asleep within a reasonable time and not staying asleep through the night. When frequent awakenings occur, the brain cannot follow through with the normal stages of sleep needed for achieving restorative rest.
Prescription sleep medications are usually the first-line treatment by doctors trying to get a handle on chronic insomnia, but recently the FDA had restricted their use by advising physicians to either cut current doses by half, or to not prescribe more than 5 milligrams per dose.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be helpful, although some patients report that the short term memory problems associated with insomnia make it difficult to follow the sometimes complicated protocols involved in sleep restriction therapy and extensive written reporting.
Brainwave biofeeedback is also being used more extensively for chronic insomnia as well.