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Why People With Insomnia Don’t Know They’re Asleep

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A recent study explains that insomnia is not simply sleeplessness, but rather the inability of the brain to inhibit function during limbo.

A normal person's brain shuts off neural activity as it prepares to sleep, but an insomniac person's brain would have a hard time inhibiting its activities that are necessary for sleep.

Daniel Kay, a Brigham Young University professor of psychology, published a study suggesting that an abnormality in the brain's inhibition process is what makes insomniacs have a hard time sleeping.

"Previous studies found that patients with insomnia appear to be asleep, their eyes are closed and their brain is in a characteristic sleep pattern, but you wake them up and guess what they are more likely to tell you? 'I was awake,'" Kay explained.

Kay also debunked an earlier theory called sleep misperception, where some sleep scientists categorized sleep into being asleep and being awake. Kay emphasized that being asleep does not necessarily mean that the person has lost his state of consciousness.

Reinforcing Sleep

To better understand Kay's theory, study participants were asked to undergo polysomnography, the current gold standard for measuring sleep. Basically, the test was to determine the length of time the participants were in the states of being asleep and awake.

The polysomnography suggested that the participants were awake longer than what the machine measured as shown by the greater brain activities in the regions associated with a conscious state.

Similar results also appeared in normal sleepers, where brain activities recorded greater at the time the polysomnography reported the participants said they slept longer.

Kay concluded that people with insomnia may be able to benefit from mindfulness meditation to reduce impairment in the cognitive processes that inhibit consciousness.

How To Sleep Better

Sleep deprivation can lead to a number of serious complications including migraines and hypertension. Sleep experts said that getting a healthy amount of sleep can prevent mood swings and irritability.

Having a sleep routine trains the body and the brain to be in a state of consciousness or a state of sleep. It means that a person should set schedules for daily activities, and allot allowance in which the body can relax prior to snoozing.

Distractions like gadgets and television can also hinder sleep. The brain is a continuous process as long as there are stimuli that attract it. Experts suggest to keep away mobile phones, turn off TV screens, and instead, read a book.

People who have a hard time sleeping should reduce their caffeine intake, as it alerts the nerves and consequently be awake. Breathing exercises like meditation should also help relax the body because it allows oxygen to flow in the body.

Kay said that his research is just a precursor to potential future studies on treatments for insomnia.

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