‘Insomnia Brain’ Totally Making You Stupid [Study]

Insomnia brain doesn’t just make you feel awful after a night of tossing and turning — new research has illustrated just how much of an effect a poor night’s sleep has on daily cognitive functioning.

While insomnia brain isn’t necessarily a diagnosable condition just yet, the effects are measurable and severe, researchers at the University of California, San Diego found. Findings published in the journal Sleep involved a small study made up of 25 of those lucky people who just fall asleep, versus 25 who self-identified as battling insomnia.

People with insomnia struggle to sleep at night, but it also has consequences during the day such as delayed reaction times and memory.

We all know the feeling of fatigue, exhaustion, and general discomfort that follows a bad night in bed, but Prof. Sean Drummond, study researcher, said that the effects go beyond being simply weary:

“We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task… This data helps us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day.”

LiveScience explains that the study observed cognitive breakdowns in the “insomnia” group when tasks became challenging:

“As the task got harder, participations without insomnia began showing more activity in another brain region also involved in working memory, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. However, this region showed now change in people with insomnia… In addition, as the task became more difficult, people without insomnia turned off regions involved in the brain’s “default mode.” These regions are active when a person isn’t focused on anything in particular (as in when the mind wanders). However, people with insomnia did not turn off these regions.”

Further insomnia brain studies are recommended to determine the effects of severe insomnia on cognitive function, as well as the impact of co-morbid conditions on sleep and subsequent functioning.