Do you tend to dwell on upsetting thoughts? Does your arousal thermostat feel like it’s set too high, making it hard for your body to relax and fall or stay asleep? Insomnia is often described as a disorder of hyperarousal, yet how and why the hyperarousal develops is unclear.
Now a team of 13 sleep scientists from three countries have taken findings from different lines of research, conducted a study of their own, and come up with a plausible explanation for why our minds and bodies feel like they’re stuck in overdrive and just can’t stop. Here’s what may lie behind our trouble falling and staying asleep.
The brains of people with insomnia are active at night, even during quiet sleep. This activity isn’t often noted in sleep studies, where the point is to identify dominant wave forms. But looking closer, scientists are discovering slight but crucial differences in insomniacs’ brain waves at night, which may explain our trouble falling and staying asleep.
“Alpha wave intrusion” is a term used to describe the wake-like brain activity observed during the deep sleep of people with fibromyalgia and major depression. Now a new study in the Journal of Sleep Research presents evidence of abnormal alpha wave activity in insomniacs’ brains at night. Here are the two main findings:
Who would you guess wakes up more frequently at night because of stress and anxiety? Adults who are young, middle aged, or old?
What the Sleepless Nights survey tells us about middle-of-the-night awakeners, together with a dash of commentary and advice.
Interesting but dangerous: that’s what I heard about L-tryptophan supplements for several years. Research starting in the 1960s was showing that L-tryptophan might be an effective remedy for insomnia.
Then came the tryptophan-related outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) in 1989, killing 37 people and sickening thousands. The United States subsequently banned the supplements, and research on L-tryptophan and sleep came to a halt.
Now reviewers of alternative treatments for insomnia are again mentioning L-tryptophan as a substance of interest. Here are the pros and cons.
Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep) is when most dreams occur. Episodes of REM sleep also help defuse negative emotions and improve the learning of motor skills.
Until recently, insomnia wasn’t thought to be a problem of REM sleep. Insomnia, the thinking went, was caused mainly by phenomena occurring—or failing to occur—during quiet, or non-REM, sleep: insufficient deep sleep, for example, or wake-like activity occurring in other stages of non-REM sleep, resulting in insufficient or poor sleep.
In the past few years, though, REM sleep has become a suspect in the quest to identify what causes people to wake up frequently in the middle of the night and too early in the morning. (This type of insomnia is called sleep maintenance insomnia). Here’s more about this intriguing proposition.
A friend recently called to talk about insomnia. Her problem, she said, was that she couldn’t sleep past 3 a.m. Her doctor recommended taking melatonin and she wanted to know what I thought of this advice.
If you’ve got the type of insomnia where you wake up too early or too frequently (sleep maintenance insomnia), you may be interested in this update.
Does your sleep problem involve waking up in the middle of the night once or several times and then trouble falling back to sleep? Sleep maintenance insomnia is actually the most common form of insomnia, and it’s more common as people age. Here’s a quick review of the possible causes and what can be done.