Insomnia has become increasingly common in the past few years, raising concerns all over the expert medical community. Once a pretty rare affliction, as many as one three Americans will suffer from casual insomnia at several points in their lives, while one in ten suffers from chronic or primary insomnia.
As defined by experts, primary insomnia is when people have trouble falling and then staying asleep for at least a month. Another important characteristic of primary insomnia is that it doesn’t have to be caused by physical stimulants like pain, too much coffee, or anything else that keeps you awake.
New MRI technique
Since the condition is so prevalent and has become so common in recent years, experts have also become more and more determined to get to the bottom of it and figure out what causes the condition. For this, they made use of a new MRI technique called diffusion sensor imaging (DTI).
This new technique allows researchers to analyze the pattern in which water moves along the white matter tracts in order to determine whether the tracts have lost their integrity.
Furthermore, they used four different questionnaires (the Self-Rating Depression Scale, the Self-Rating Anxiety Scale, the Insomnia Severity Index, and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) to evaluate the mental status and sleep patterns of 23 primary insomnia volunteers and 30 healthy participants that acted as a control group.
White matter tracts
For those of you unfamiliar with neurological talk, white matter tracts are basically bundles of axons that connect different parts of the brain between them. If these tracts are in any way impaired, communication between brain regions is interrupted. The results weren’t particularly encouraging.
As it turns out, the Chinese team discovered that insomnia is linked to reduced white matter integrity in several areas of the brain, particularly in the right regions, in the thalamus, and in the corpus callosum. These regions are associated with sleep, consciousness, alertness, the body’s biological clock, and the regulation of the sensorimotor and cognitive functions.
Pathology of insomnia
First of all, the condition can lead to a wide array of different symptoms and conditions. Among these, the most prevalent would be cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety. In pretty much all cases it is also known to be associated with mood disruptions and daytime fatigue.
These associated symptoms are all caused by the brain areas being affected by the lack of sleep. Further looking into the matter, the team realized that the white matter integrity abnormalities were caused by the loss of the protective coating around the nerve fibers, coating known as myelin.
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