Iowans who routinely have trouble sleeping may someday be able to thank veterans for helping lead medical science to an effective cure. Researcher Michael Koenigs is studying Vietnam veterans who have brain injuries and says he’s seeing some surprising trends as they relate to sleeplessness.
Koenigs says if there had been damage to an area near the front of the brain, near the top and along the midline, the veterans were much more susceptible to insomnia. Koenigs is a former University of Iowa research who’s now a psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Brain waves involving deep sleep are related to electrical activity that originates in the front of the brain and works its way backward. Some injured veterans lacked that proper connectivity. He says this has applications for civilians who have not suffered brain injuries — but who can’t sleep.
With regular insomniacs, you wouldn’t see missing parts of brain but this research provides clues as to where to look for dysfunction and where to target possible treatment.
Years ago, he says researchers would only be able to monitor unusual behavior that might indicate brain injury and then they could study the actual brain after the patient died. Today, Koenigs says they don’t have to wait that long.
He says with advanced imaging techniques, we can look inside a living brain and map out what’s damaged and associate areas of damage with changes in cognitive or social behavior.
The research was part of a study group of 192 Vietnam veterans at the National Institutes of Health.