People with insomnia may have more "plastic" brains
People with insomnia tend to have more "plasticity" in their brains, meaning that their they are more active and flexible than they are with people who sleep well. That's the conclusion of a recent study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Specifically, the researchers found that the motor cortex, which controls movement, tends to be more "plastic" in patients with insomnia, including during the day. They said that people with insomnia may experience higher cortisol levels and anxiety on a daily basis.
For the study, researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to trigger areas of the motor cortex in 18 insomniacs and 10 people without sleep issues. The brain stimulation caused them to move their thumbs involuntarily in a certain direction. The participants had accelerometers placed on their thumbs to measure their movements. Then researchers looked to see how easily the participants could learn to move their thumb in the opposite direction of the involuntary movement. The more easily a person could learn to move his or her thumb in the opposite direction, the more flexible the motor cortex.
Researchers had expected people with insomnia to have less plasticity, but say that what they found may be tied to the increased metabolism, cortisol levels and anxiety, which are characteristic of insomnia.