I have written, elsewhere on this site, how, at its worst, my insomnia was causing me to wake up extremely frequently at night and how I had great difficulty getting to sleep. Also, however, the small snatches of sleep I did manage to get during the night seemed always to consist of intensely vivid, and usually terrifying, dreams. I did not seem to be getting any ‘deep/non-dream’ sleep and consequently would feel no less exhausted in the morning than I’d been when I went to bed. Even maximum doses of sleeping tablets such as Temazepam had little, if any, impact, despite the fact that I was already taking major tranquillisers.
It is well known that disrupted sleep is one of the main symptoms of depression, especially when the individual suffers from early morning waking and is unable to get back to sleep. However, recent research also suggests that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are also liable to spend more time dreaming when we are asleep compared to those fortunate enough to have experienced a less stressful upbringing.
A Canadian study has found that those who are suffering from the condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD (which is strongly associated with the experience of significant childhood trauma) have different brain wave patterns when asleep compared to those individuals free from mental illness.
Specifically, the REM sleep (REM sleep is ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep and is the stage in the sleep cycle when people dream) is affected: their first stage of REM sleep, at the beginning of the sleep cycle, is entered more quickly, lasts longer and is more concentrated than that of non – mentally ill individuals. This was deduced from brain wave measures taken of those who were part of the study in sleep laboratories as they slept.
From this, the Canadian scientists inferred that those with BPD have brains which are functionally different compared to non-mentally people. This may be due to structural differences in their brains (ie the architecture, or physical structure, of their brains, is abnormal) or brain chemistry abnormalities. Or both.
This supports the prevalent and increasingly incontrovertible theory that the severe childhood trauma many BPD sufferers have experienced has resulted in physical damage to the brain.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).