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Breakthrough finding discovers cause of insomnia



  • Dutch scientists in the brain scans of people invoking shameful experiences.
  • Insomnia suffers can not be neutralized distressing memories as well.
  • The anterior cingulate cortex is part of the brain linked to insomnia.

New research from scientists at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience points to the underlying cause of insomnia – a sleep disorder affecting half of all adults at some point. Sufferers from insomnia are able to resolve experiences as neutralized memories while the good sleepers have no trouble doing so.

The experiment consisted of making 57 Dutch participants, 18-70 years of age, reliving shameful experiences while getting their MRI scanned. The memories were supposed to be from decades ago.

The brain scans showed that those who slept well were able to turn shameful experiences into neutralized memories. The insomniacs, on the other hand, the snake trouble achieving the same neutralization of emotional disturbances.

This discovery fits well with what we already know about the purpose of sleep. It is time for us to solidify the memories of important experiences but also to address emotionally-distressful aspects of such memories. During sleep, connections between brain cells are either strengthened or weakened, consolidating memories or getting rid of them. Those who are able to do mental processing without getting better sleep.

Interestingly, the study builds upon previous research from the same team where the invoked shame related to the subjects to listen to their karaoke recordings. These were made without telling the subjects what they were for, while they had to wear headphones, making their singing even worse.

Brain / Netherland Institute for Neuroscience.

Responses to novelty and relived experiences among good sleepers vs insomnia sufferers.

The study adds to the growing amount of evidence that insomnia risk genes are particularly linked to the limbic circuitry of the brain. More specifically – the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) known to regulate emotion. The researchers implicate this region in "insufficient long-term adaptation to emotional memory" among insomnia-sufferers. Without sleeping well, events that happened decades ago trigger emotional circuits as if they are taking place now.

The findings also relate to the fact that insomnia is a primary risk factor leading to mood disorders, anxiety and PTSD.

You can read the study, ice by Rick Wassing, Frans Schalkwijk and Eus van Someren in the scientific journal Brain.

Want to get better sleep? Here's how | Caroline L. Arnold

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