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Primary Insomnia Linked to Neurochemical Abnormality

For the first time, researchers have identified a specific neurochemical abnormality in adults with primary insomnia. Primary insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, or having non-refreshing sleep, for at least one month without any known physical or mental condition. The current study results indicate that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the most common inhibitory transmitter in the brain, is reduced by nearly 30 percent in individuals who suffer from primary insomnia for more than six months. These findings suggest that primary insomnia is a manifestation of a neurobiological state of hyperarousal, which is present during both waking and sleep at physiological and cognitive levels. "Recognition that insomnia has manifestations in the brain may increase the legitimacy of those who have insomnia and report substantial daytime consequences," said Dr. John Winkelman, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, the principal investigator on the study. "Insomnia is not just a phenomenon observed at night, but has daytime consequences for energy, concentration, and mood." This work was reported June 9 at SLEEP 2000, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. [Press release]