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Gray matter matters


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I would personally like to thank the folks at Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience for creeping me out with the latest distressing brain information. In the Feb. 16 Discover News online at news.discover.com, Cristen Conger reports that researchers from the Netherlands Institute ran brain scans on gobs of different people and found that the people in the study who have chronic insomnia also have decreased levels of gray matter. In other words, chronic insomniacs, such as myself, have diminished brains like shriveled gray raisins rattling around in our skulls. I really didn't have enough to worry about in the middle of the night, but now that my list of midnight worries includes shrunkenbrain induced stupidity, my life is complete. The thick, frothy icing on the insomnia-cake is that the researchers don't even know yet if the brain shrinkage is the cause or the result of the chronic insomnia. The question then is: Was my sleep-deprived brain just too small from the get-go, and there's nothing I can do about it other than sit around and blame my parents for their poor DNA? I can't drink more water to rehydrate my gray matter, eat more gray foods to feed it. Or: Are all my nights of insomnia causing my brain to shrink more? Should I be looking for a little pile of gray cells shed onto my pillow during the night? Am I caught up in one of the great tragic ironies of life in which lying awake at night worrying about my shrinking gray matter is actually killing off MORE gray matter? Ponder that conundrum at 3 o'clock tomorrow morning, if you wish. I know I did. The researchers can say this, however: The density shrinkage occurs in areas that regulate the brain's ability to make decisions, most notably, decisions about the emotional value of stimuli. In other words, chronic insomniacs can't decipher what is worth worrying about. In other words, this is why I'm just as likely to lie awake worrying about personal finances, family (both two-legged and four) and my health as I am the global economy, whether or not I used the proper form of there/their/they're in my last blog entry, what was the strange noise that woke me, why isn't the furnace turning on, how is that woman who got her face eaten off by the chimp doing, why won't the furnace turn off and, ohmigawd, if peas are a legume and corn is a starch then I didn't eat a single vegetable all day. Last night, in particular, I spent the wee-hours of the morning pondering the mean-spiritedness of researchers. They're smart people, right? They just discovered a neurological link between chronic insomnia, diminished gray matter and inability to make smart choices about worrying. All that information, but they don't tell us cause and effect or solutions. Seriously? They had to know every free-thinking chronic insomniac in the world was going to latch onto that news byte and spend hours upon hours in the middle of the night imagining their brains drying up like some eerie, squiggle of gray morel mushroom in the hollow dark cavity of their skull. My conclusion, at 4 a.m., was that the researchers are A) cruel to those people who are intellectually less fortunate than they are — with their giant craniums full of lush gray matter, B) hungry to get their research in print, despite that fact that it is woefully incomplete, so they can cut out the article to paper their refrigerator, or C) fear mongering to garner research funds from people desperate to save their gray matter. Any way I looked at the issue, I could see that it was the researchers' problem, not mine. I slept like an innocent baby with fully formed and plump gray matter after that. Maybe I should send them a balloon bouquet and some chocolates. (Luckily, I function better off of gut instinct than actual brains at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)


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