In modern society, many people have insomnia. Chronic insomnia has been noted as a risk factor for depression. However, there are few functional imaging studies of the brain on affective functions in chronic insomnia. This study aimed to investigate brain activities induced by emotional stimuli in chronic insomnia patients. Fifteen patients with primary insomnia and 30 age and gender matched healthy controls participated in this study. Both groups were presented images of fearful, happy, and neutral expressions consciously and non-consciously while undergoing MRI to compare the activity in regions of the brain responsible for emotions. Conscious presentation of the Happy-Neutral contrast showed significantly lower activation in the right orbitofrontal cortex of patients compared to healthy controls. The Happy-Neutral contrast presented in a non-conscious manner resulted in significantly lower activation of the ventral striatum, right insula, putamen, orbitofrontal cortex and ventral tegmental area in patients compared to healthy controls. Our findings revealed that responsiveness to positive emotional stimuli were decreased in insomniac patients. Specifically, brain networks associated with rewards and processing positive emotions showed decreased responsiveness to happy emotions especially for non-conscious image. The magnitude of activity in these areas also correlated with severity of insomnia, even after controlling for depression scale scores. These findings suggest that insomnia induces an affective functional disorder through an underlying mechanism of decreased sensitivity in the regions of the brain responsible for emotions and rewards to positive emotional stimuli.
ASJC Scopus subject areas