US Pharm. 2014;39(3):49-50.

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, people with chronic insomnia show more plasticity and activity than good sleepers in the part of the brain that controls movement.

“Insomnia is not a nighttime disorder,” says study leader Rachel E. Salas, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s a 24-hour brain condition, like a light switch that is always on. Our research adds information about differences in the brain associated with it.”

Dr. Salas and her team, reporting in the journal Sleep, found that the motor cortex in those with chronic insomnia was more adaptable to change—or more plastic—than in a group of good sleepers. Among those with chronic insomnia, they also found more “excitability” among neurons in the same region of the brain, supporting the theory that insomniacs are in a constant state of heightened information processing that may interfere with sleep.

Dr. Salas says the origins of increased plasticity in insomniacs are unclear, and it is not known whether the increase is the cause of insomnia. It is also unknown whether this increased plasticity is beneficial, the source of the problem, or part of a compensatory mechanism to address the consequences of sleep deprivation associated with chronic insomnia.