Sleeplessness is caused by overactive frontal lobes according to an article in The Scientific American Mind – Nov/Dec 2011, p. 11. Insomnia is a common problem, and the article avers that physically cooling the brain by using a cold compress on the forehead slows its activity and helps insomniacs go to sleep. I don’t have any particular problem with falling asleep, but it seemed like such an easy experiment to perform that on going to bed I put an ice pack on my forehead.
At our home we have a tradition of reading out loud for ten minutes or so upon retiring, and for my bedtime story Debbie has been reading aloud Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The first several chapters are about the history of interpersonal violence in various cultures. Mostly it’s about the statistics of murder starting with the Classic Greeks, and the Old Testament and continuing right up to the present. The data may be a little soft for statistics, but as Pinker develops his thesis it becomes clear that personal violence has dropped off tremendously since the good old days. This is not particularly soothing bedtime reading; quite the opposite, it is very stimulating and somewhat anxiety producing. Murder still happens, and even thought it is rare nowadays, the thought of someone creeping up and killing you is disturbing.
When the brain is stimulated with anxiety, especially with complex moral thoughts, it is the prefrontal cortex which goes into action. When any region of the brain is active it has greater blood flow, which can be measured, but another byproduct of blood flow is heat, because the flowing blood is being metabolized by the brain, and thus the easily measured blood flow is a proxy for brain activity in that region and thus for thoughts in that region, but a secondary easily observed but more generalized byproduct is heat. Brain activity creates heat. Eric A. Nofzinger says in the article that insomnia is a disorder of hyperarousal. In this case it is a hyperarousal of the prefrontal cortex which is keeping some people awake, and that hyperarousal is associated with excessive blood flow in the brain and heat.
The experiment consisted of cooling the outside of the head and thus after a while of the brain inside. If the insomniac wears a water-cooled night cap when in bed it cools their brain. They claimed 75% of the dozen insomniacs tested in this way slept better. With results of that magnitude it should be easy to replicate the experiment and get immediate results. So, I did a quick and easy experiment upon myself, by simply taking out an icepack already in my refrigerator, and after wrapping it in a layer of cloth placed it on my head while listening to Debbie read horrible stories. After ten minutes my forehead was noticeably cold, and even after the hearing those anxiety-producing stories I did go to sleep rather quickly. A single experiment, or even one with twelve subjects, isn’t proof, but it certainly is indicator enough to do a hundred individual experiments and that should isolate the operative factors, if there are any. This is such an easy experiment to do that other sleep clinics will soon confirm or deny these results.
A second set of derivative experiments can also be done on anger, fear and other anxiety conditions, to see if the cooling of the brain would affect these emotions and possibly bring them under control. It may be with good reasonable observations made in the past that the concepts “hot head,” “keeping a cool head” and “in cold blood” have come into our lexicon.
A person with a cool forehead in a very dark room sleeps better.