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Insomnia: Not Just for Nighttime

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Although insomnia is typically thought of as a problem at night, a new study has uncovered that it is actually a 24 hour problem. This study gives new insight into how insomnia should be treated. Read more about the study and possible new treatment options below.

A great number of people have trouble sleeping every now and then- simple stresses of everyday life and worries of the day can enter your mind and night and prevent relaxing, healthy sleep.

However, the National Sleep Foundation estimates that for another 15 percent of Americans, insomnia is a chronic problem. Chronic insomnia has many health risks with serious side effects, such as memory loss, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, reduced immunity, and even an overall increased risk for death.

In the past, researchers believed that insomnia was something that simply had to do with trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. However, new research has uncovered that rather than simply being an issue of sleep, insomnia is a 24-hour problem that has more to do with how the brain operates throughout the day rather than just at night.

What does this mean for individuals suffering from insomnia? Identifying insomnia problems as a 24-hour condition could help researchers isolate the true cause of the problem. This, in turn, could lead to a better understanding of what can cure chronic sleep problems and help insomniacs sleep and function normally.

Study Details

The study took place in 2013 and was conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; headed by Dr. Rachel Salas, professor of neurology. The study compared the brains of 18 insomniacs with 10 healthy sleepers. The researchers wanted to examine the difference in brain adaptability using called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

During called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electrodes are placed around the skull so that the researchers could push electromagnetic currents into various parts of the brain. The procedure was completely painless to all patients. Currently, TMS is used to treat both depression and migraine pain by disrupting circuits that cause these conditions and is FDA approved. The researchers found that using the treatment method on patients with insomnia had similarly good results.

During the study, researchers identified the brain adaptability of patients by measuring brain activity using EEG monitoring. Each patient was pulsed with the EEG waves to move their thumb and the researchers recorded the movement pattern. Then, the researchers requested that patients move their thumbs opposite to the stimulated reaction without the use of TMS or EEG. The researchers believed that patients with insomnia would have greater difficulty moving the thumbs since insomniacs have a greater number of concentration issues and memory problems, according to research from past studies.

However, the results did not align with the expectations of the researchers. In fact, the insomniacs had enhanced brain activity compared to healthy sleepers and the patients with insomnia were able to perform the task better and faster than the healthy sleep group.

This experiment confirmed past theories that insomniacs are poor sleepers because their brains are always “on.” The brain continues to operate at waking levels even when the brain is supposed to be on low power for sleep. Even when asleep, an insomniac's brain continues to operate on a higher level than someone with healthy sleep patterns.

Although it might seem like higher brain activity is a good thing, there are consequences to never having downtime. Aside from leading to the numerous health problems caused by lack of sleep, insomniacs have higher levels of stress hormones in the brain, which can lead to many health problems on its own. With a brain that is constantly awake, there is no time to refresh and recharge, which pushes the body into a state of constant stress and panic.

The researchers were unable to identify which element appears first. Is it an active brain that robs a person of sleep, or does insomnia cause the brain to become hyperactive? The researchers hope to identify the cause in future studies. Researchers also hope to find where the benefits and adaptability of the brain stop for individuals with insomnia. The task in this study was easy; researchers want to find out if the same benefits apply for difficult or complicated tasks, or if healthy sleepers have the advantage under those conditions.

According to the study researchers, the main benefit of this study was identifying that individuals with insomnia likely suffer from over-excited brains. This will help identify new treatments that specifically target this issue. The researchers found that TMS could be beneficial in reducing the activity level of the brain by reducing how much glutamate was used in the brain. Glutamate is typically responsible for the brain’s activity level. However, what other brain-calming steps could help insomniacs get better sleep are still hypothetical at this point.

Insomnia: Caused by Hyper Brain Activity

This study highlights the main difference between individuals with insomnia and individuals with normal sleep patterns. The brain literally cannot shut off, which prevents healthy sleep. The key, then, to preventing insomnia is to promote healthy methods for calming the brain and allowing the mind to take much-needed rests from waking activity.

Luckily, there are many natural foods and ingredients that can help calm the mind and promote healthy rest and relaxation. You may find that your sleep problems evaporate just by ensuring you have high levels of the following ingredients.

How to Relax the Brain Naturally

Use the following natural ingredients to encourage your brain to enter the “off” position at night.


Several studies have indicated that insomnia is related to the same area of the brain as depression or anxiety. In the study from Johns Hopkins, researchers used the same TMS method to encourage the brain to turn off as is used to reduce depressive symptoms. Inositol is a chemical transmitter essential for helping neurotransmitters to function properly. It is particularly helpful for regulating serotonin and acetylcholine. When inositol was tested against depressive symptoms in a 1995 study from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, it was found that inositol supplements helped reduce both panic attacks and depressive symptoms. Inositol may also be able to help promote healthy sleep by triggering the brain to turn off during sleep.

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

GABA is an amino acid that has similar calming effects in the brain to inositol. Patients with depressive disorders usually have much lower levels of GABA in the brain. In a study from 2004 conducted by Yale University School of Medicine examining 33 patients with depression, it was found that supplementing with GABA could relieve stress and calm the mind, which can promote healthy sleep and necessary brain downtime.


Many individuals around the world are deficient in this vital mineral. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body and is required for healthy brain activity, hormone production, metabolism, and sleep patterns. According to nutritional therapist Dr. Marek Doyle, a deficiency in magnesium will ensure that you consistently have poor sleep quality. Magnesium is essential for the natural production of GABA in the body. You can boost your GABA levels simply by consuming more magnesium. Dr. Doyle recommends the consumption of 400-500mg of chelated magnesium daily.

B Vitamins

B vitamins have a surprisingly large role in brain health. Of particular importance are vitamin B3 and vitamin B1. These vitamins support nervous system health and help regulate the function of neurotransmitters. Many common habits deplete these vitamins in the brain, particularly the consumption of alcohol and the over-consumption of liquids. 

Sources of B1 and B3
  • Black beans
  • Spinach
  • Salmon
  • Brown rice


Yet another neurotransmitter, 5-hydroxy tryptophan is essential for regulating mood and sleeping patterns. 5-HTP is used to create the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which are both essential for sleep regulation and balance. Low levels of 5-HTP could contribute to sleeplessness and a brain that is always on. The University of Maryland states that one study found that supplementing with additional 5-HTP was able to help study participants with insomnia fall asleep quicker and remain asleep longer. The University recommends a daily dose of around 200 - 400 mg at night and to allow up to 12 weeks for the supplement to kick in fully.

Other Steps to Healthy Sleep

Establishing an “off” period for the brain is not all chemical. As humans, we can train our brains to recognize signals as cues for activities like eating or sleeping. You can encourage your brain to shut down each night by engaging in sleep-promoting activities. These activities can vary but include practices like avoiding stimulating activities at night, shutting down electronics during the evening (they can interfere with sleep hormone production), using relaxation techniques to let go of stress, and keeping your house cool at night.

Other Sleep Promoting Activities
  • Regular, daily exercise (not just before bed)
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Warm baths
  • Warm beverages at night
  • Relaxing activities like reading or listening to music

Helping Your Brain Relax

When it comes to many individuals with insomnia, the culprit could be simply a difference in how your brain works. You have trouble shutting your brain off; which could be both chemical and simply a difference in genetics. According to the John Hopkins study, the key to solving insomnia is to encourage the brain to relax and let go of the mental activity from the day.

You can help promote healthy sleep patterns by ensuring you have the right balance of chemicals in the brain and nutrients in the body that develop healthy sleep patterns and allow the brain to shut off. Additionally, creating a constant sleep routine and practicing relaxation techniques can work with supplements to encourage healthy sleep patterns.





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