Individuals battling insomnia may be missing brain matter, not just losing out on sleep.
With the help of brain imaging, researchers have linked chronic insomnia to lower gray matter density in areas that regulate the brain's ability to make decisions and to rest, reports Discovery News.
"The findings predict that chronic insomnia sufferers may have compromised capacities to evaluate the affective value of stimuli," said Ellemarijie Altena, lead author of the study from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. "This could have consequences for other cognitive processes, notably decision-making."
The study has been published in Biological Psychiatry.
To reach the conclusion, boffins compared the white and gray matter volumes of 24 older, chronic insomnia patients to 13 normal sleepers, and controlled for physical and psychiatric disorders that could also alter brain densities.
Severe insomniacs exhibited the most extensive density loss, regardless of how long they had suffered from the disorder.
However, the researchers are not yet able to pin down whether sleeplessness precedes gray matter loss or the other way around.
"We can't say what comes first: the lower gray matter density or the insomnia, but (the data) suggests that a low orbitofrontal gray matter density may be a risk factor to develop insomnia," said Altena, now a research associate at the Cambridge University Department of Clinical Neurosciences. "We only investigated older people, so follow-up studies at different ages could hopefully in the future determine what comes first."