Home Health Your brain might go to sleep without you even knowing

Your brain might go to sleep without you even knowing

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Ever feel like you’ve been awake all night, only for your partner to accuse you of snoring in the morning?

You may spend hours tossing and turning in the hope of drifting off

Those of us who struggle with insomnia struggle to get to sleep and often spend hours tossing and turning in the hope of drifting off. But we might actually be catching more shut-eye than we think.

A new study has been looking at ‘sleep misperception’, examining the link between conscious awareness and sleep patterns. Researchers analysed the sleep patterns and experiences of 32 insomniacs and 30 people who reported as having no sleep issues.

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Using the traditional sleep study method of polysomnography, scientists examined the brain waves of each person by injecting a radioactive tracer into their arms while they slept.

Brain scans were also taken to determine where in the brain any activity occurred.

The next morning, participants were asked about their sleeping experience.

They found that those people with insomnia who reported being awake even when the polysomnography showed otherwise, had increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep.

We all go through an inhibition process when we fall asleep but this study suggests that insomniacs might not feel like they’re asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas linked to conscious awareness.

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‘In patients with insomnia, processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired…one of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation,’ says the study’s lead author Daniel Kay, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University.

‘It may help patients inhibit cognitive processes that are preventing them from experiencing sleep.’

So if you do suffer from insomnia, you may well be sleeping more than you think – and that thought alone might make the whole process of trying to get to sleep slightly less stressful.