Insomnia linked to White Matter Abnormalities

Everyone knows that lack of sleep can affect your brain in a negative way. A good night’s sleep is essential to improving memory, learning, and mental health.

However, recent studies have discovered that insomnia has been linked to white matter abnormalities. People with insomnia has a different brain structure overall.

A team of Chinese researchers led by Shumei Li from the Department of Medical Imaging in Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People’s Hospital China, had used a special imaging technique to discover that people with insomnia have variations in their amount of white matter, which links different parts of the brain together. Their study has been recently published in the journal Radiology. The researchers had compared the images of the brains of 23 people with chronic insomnia to 30 healthy patients. The patients underwent brain MRI scans, then a special imaging technique for further analysis. The specialized technique in use is called “Diffusion Tensor Imaging”, commonly referred to as DTI. This technique has been used extensively to specifically map white matter tractography in the brain. Researchers are able to view the pattern of water movement and diffusion along the white matter tracts to identify if they are abnormal or not.

Insomnia is a very prevalent disorder often characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.It is often associated with symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, irritability, and problems regarding memory and concentration.

White matter is an important part of the brain and is necessary for its functioning. It is made up of bundles of axons coated in a protective myelin sheath, which helps in connecting one region of the brain to another region. When the white matter has abnormalities or there is a loss of white matter, (e.g; white matter disease) it can significantly increase the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.

Results from the study had shown that brains in the people with insomnia had impaired white matter tracts in regions of the right hemisphere, which is primarily involved in cognitive function and other associated traits such as creativity, intuition, and imagination. The patients had reduced white matter integrity in the thalamus, which is involved in consciousness, sleep, and sensory interpretation.

Now that researchers have found the underlying effects of insomnia, it won’t be long until they can find out if abnormalities in white matter tracts can be reversed. Li has stated that she would like to follow a larger sampling of patients before and after to see if insomnia improves with the use of common insomnia treatments such as sleeping pills and the more popular cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).


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