Nothing effs with your shuteye quite like stress. According to a new study from Concordia University, some people aren’t as well-equipped to deal with the drama, making us more vulnerable to icky things like insomnia. (Cue sad trombone.)
Researchers studied the sleep cycles of 12 Concordia students as they went through one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of all: Finals. After measuring participants’ brain waves at the start of the semester, they found students showing a lower amount of a specific pattern of brain wave—called sleep spindles—were more at risk for developing post-exam insomnia from the stress. Ew.
While you’re asleep, your brain—specifically, your thalamus and cortex—produce electrical activities. One of these activities shows up as patterns of squiggly lines on the monitors of measurement equipment (or as scientists call them, spindles). In a previous experiment, Concordia professor Thien Thanh Dang-Vu and his team discovered that greater spindle activity helps sleepers resist waking, despite noise. This new study tested whether there is a similar relationship between spindles and stress—and there is.
“We found that those who had the lowest spindle activity at the beginning of the semester tended to develop more sleep disturbances at the end of the school semester coinciding with the period of preparations for final exams,” Dang-Vu said in a statement. (Based on this research, I don’t even know if I have spindles.)
So is it possible for spindle-deprived ladies to increase their brain’s output? Might it be like strengthening a muscle, where in time you stop sucking at the whole sleep thing? Unfortunately, not so much. According to researchers, spindles seem to depend on genetics. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) But don’t fret: Dang-Vu says exploring ways to give our spindles a boost is another potential area of research, especially since it may help put the kibosh on insomnia before it starts.
In the meantime, Dang-Vu suggests putting more of an effort into reducing stress and establishing healthier sleep habits—especially if you suspect you’re lacking in the spindle department. For example, designating your bedroom a sleep (and sex)-only destination, prepping your bod for shuteye, putting your mind on mute, and nixing the stress that comes from trying to fall asleep — because we all know how that turns out.
READ MORE: Eight Ways to Sleep Well