Insomnia Sleep Disorders and the Science of Emotion

A recent study found that there are neurological evidences pointing to how insomnia sleep disorders can cause depression. According to the study, the neural circuitry controlling emotions is affected when one suffers from chronic insomnia.

Insomnia sleep disorders are characterized by the inability or difficulty to fall asleep. People with insomnia also often wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to go back to sleep or wake up very early in the morning. Because of lack of quality sleep, they feel tired during the day and suffer from excessive sleepiness during the daytime. These people may also have behavioral problems such as irritability, and problems with memory and concentration. Causes of insomnia include emotional stress, physical discomfort, environment (light, noise, extreme temperature, etc.), medications (medicines for colds, asthma, depression, etc.), depression or anxiety, and chronic stress. Acute insomnia usually does not require any medical help; it can be corrected by practicing good sleeping habits. As for chronic insomnia, it is best to seek medical help.

According to Dr. Peter Franzen, PhD, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine, insomnia sleep disorders area risk factor for depression. He said that psychiatric disorders, such as depression, may be caused by alterations of the brain circuits controlling emotions. Such alterations and disturbances in the brain circuits may be the result of sleep disturbances.

Dr. Franzen’s study involved 30 adults without any sleep disorders for control group, and 14 individuals diagnosed with chronic primary insomnia but without any major psychiatric disorders. The participants were shown neutral and negative pictures and underwent Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan. The researchers asked the participants to view pictures passively or lessen their emotional responses through cognitive reappraisal, an emotion regulation technique wherein the images are interpreted in a way that the images feel less depressing or negative.

The results showed that amygdala activity was significantly higher during cognitive reappraisal than passive viewing among participants with chronic insomnia. The amygdala is found in the temporal lobe, and is responsible for regulating and processing emotions. 

Moreover, amygdala activity was higher among individuals with chronic insomnia compared to individuals without sleep disorders during cognitive reappraisal trials. However, there was no significant difference in the amygdala activity among both groups when they passively viewed negative pictures.

There are about 10 to 15% of American adults with insomnia that suffers with daytime impairment or distress. Moreover, 6.7% of American adults have major depressive disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that more women are affected with both depression and insomnia than men. is an authority on insomnia and other sleep disorders. There are several board-certified sleep physicians and sleep centers available on the site who are ready to help.