A CBC News report examines the effect of insomnia on the brain.
Most of us feel a good night’s sleep helps us function better during the day. But researchers are only now beginning to connect the dots between brain plasticity and the healing powers of sleep — and what happens to insomniacs when that sleep is disrupted.
“The role of light in sleep is very well known, to entrain the circadian rhythm — the sleep-wake rhythm,” said Patrice Bourgin, who studies the role of light in sleep regulation at the University of Strasbourg in France.
Sleep develops new neuron connections
“And basically you will develop some synaptic plasticity, some new synapses, new connections between neurons,” said Bourgin. “Then, like that, you can consolidate some learning memory, and you can eventually erase neural circuits that you are not using so much.”
Sleep-wake cycling is controlled by a brain structure called the hypothalamus, with light input from the retina, and by the tiny pineal gland, which secretes the neurochemical melatonin. Together, they synchronize a host of clocks throughout the body.
“Food, for example,” said Bourgin. “There is a food clock, because we are going to eat at specific time during the day. And we’d be hungry at a certain time, and less at other times. So there are clocks for many functions, and melatonin is going to synchronize this clock.”