Hyperarousal is a term I mention when people want a quick explanation for what’s behind insomnia. The word seems to resonate. Think of hyper- as in “excessive” or “extreme”; arousal, meaning “activation” or “animation.” Or plain old hyper, meaning “very excited, nervous, or active.”
“Hyperarousal” is a pretty good way to describe the feeling of insomnia at night. But is there a test for it? Does it happen only at night, or do insomniacs experience hyperarousal 24/7?
The brains of people with insomnia are active at night, even during quiet sleep. This activity isn’t often noted in sleep studies, where the point is to identify dominant wave forms. But looking closer, scientists are discovering slight but crucial differences in insomniacs’ brain waves at night, which may explain our trouble falling and staying asleep.
“Alpha wave intrusion” is a term used to describe the wake-like brain activity observed during the deep sleep of people with fibromyalgia and major depression. Now a new study in the Journal of Sleep Research presents evidence of abnormal alpha wave activity in insomniacs’ brains at night. Here are the two main findings:
Ask insomnia sufferers what they want, and the first thing on their wish lists is “more sleep.” Or “more deep sleep”—the kind associated with feelings of rest and restoration.
I’ll go along with that. But my wish list contains a few more items.
Do you normally get just an hour or two of sleep? Are there nights when you don’t sleep at all?
You may have paradoxical insomnia. Despite its prevalence, the whys and wherefores remain largely unknown. But researchers have made a little headway in recent years, and here’s what they say now.