Some insomniacs are actually asleep when they think they're awake

What if you didn't have to worry about your sleepless nights as much as you thought? In an article titled "Some People with Insomnia Think They're Awake when They're Asleep" published in Scientific American, Francine Russo explores an interesting phenomenon where individuals mistakenly believe they are awake, even though brain scans indicate that they are actually asleep.

Russo explains that this condition, known as subjective insomnia or sleep misperception, has puzzled scientists for decades. However, recent advancements in sleep measurement have revealed that those with subjective insomnia exhibit unique brain activity throughout the night. Neuroscientist Aurélie Stephan and her team at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience found that people with this condition experience pockets of arousal during REM sleep, a phase typically associated with deep, restorative rest.

Russo writes, "The most remarkable finding, Stephan says, is that these people showed pockets of arousal in the form of fast brain waves during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  This partial arousal means their sleep doesn't feel restful, and they often report thoughts similar to those they have when they are awake, like making shopping lists or planning calls.

Interrupted REM sleep is linked to conditions like PTSD and anxiety, which can worsen emotional distress that sleep is supposed to alleviate. As sleep scientist Eus van Someren from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience points out, "Proper REM sleep is the only state in which the brain takes a break from noradrenaline [norepinephrine], which is crucial for processing emotions."

This newfound understanding paves the way for personalized treatments for insomnia. Current methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) may not be sufficient for individuals with interrupted REM sleep. However, sleep restriction techniques show promise, and researchers are exploring new drug interventions to help the brain achieve a more restful state.

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