There is no single answer to ‘what is the effect of insomnia on the brain’? It is important to remember that the word insomnia can mean different things to different people. Chronic insomnia is defined as having sleep difficulties at least 3 nights per week, for many months (often years). It could include having trouble getting off to sleep or maintaining sleep, or waking too early or having non-restorative sleep. The effects on the brain and body in insomnia should not be confused with research findings from studies looking at short-term total sleep deprivation, where individuals are kept awake for many hours, often over 36-48 hours. People with insomnia still sleep, it is not a condition of total sleep deprivation. It is chronic, partial sleep loss. Insomnia is often characterised by a very alert mind with ‘racing’ thoughts and people often report feeling ‘wired and tired’ but not sleepy, hence the difficulty with sleep. Although many people with poor sleep quality and/or quantity report having poor cognitive functioning in terms of concentration, memory and attention there have also been studies that have shown that the cognitive impairments in chronic insomniacs are not as great as they feared. The more debilitating feature is the high level of anxiety and concern about the sleep loss and the possible adverse effects of the sleep loss. Therefore, it is very important that the person with insomnia, who is concerned about the effects it will have on his/her brain, gets an assessment from a sleep specialist with experience in treating insomnia without medication. This will be an important step in reducing the arousal and concern about the sleep loss and getting some support and reassurance. This will help to break out of the cycle of worry about the poor sleep-which ironically contributes to the difficulties with sleep. Click here for more information on Insomnia.
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