If you’ve got insomnia, you’ve probably heard of “worry lists.” Sleep doctors for years have been urging insomniacs to write our worries down before going to bed, claiming this will alleviate anxiety and sleep will come more easily.
Really? Write about looming deadlines and all the upcoming functions I have to prepare for before I go to bed? That’s sure to send my anxiety through the roof! (not to mention keeping me up for hours).
But the idea may not be as counterproductive as it sounds.
These days people are worried about jobs, health care, the environment, the possibility of worldwide war. Uncertainty about the future, and fear of negative outcomes, may rob even reliable sleepers of sleep from time to time.
But for many insomnia sufferers, worry and anxiety about sleep itself—“It’s two o’clock and I haven’t slept a wink!”; “If I don’t get to sleep now I’ll get sick!”—is an equally powerful enemy of sleep.
Here’s more about worry and insomnia and how to keep them from spoiling the night.
Why does stress cause insomnia in some people while other people can park their stress outside the bedroom door? No one has a comprehensive answer to this question.
But researchers say that sleep reactivity, situational factors, and responses to stress determine who’s likely to develop insomnia and who isn’t. Here’s more about the research and how to keep stress from ruining the night.
Psychophysiologic insomnia: This was my diagnosis when I finally decided to see a doctor about my sleep. I didn’t like the sound of it. “Psycho” came before “physiologic,” and to me the implication was that my trouble sleeping was mostly in my head.
My insomnia felt physical, accompanied as it was by bodily warmth, muscle tension, and a jittery feeling inside. I was anxious about sleep, too, and my thoughts weren’t exactly upbeat. But surely putting the psycho before the physiologic was putting the cart before the horse?
Insomnia sufferers write to me often with complaints about sleep-related worry and anxiety.
“The more important the next day is to me, the harder it is for me to sleep,” Jessica says. “So I worry about not sleeping and then it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Finding a solution to this problem can be tricky. It may require experimentation before you home in on a strategy that works.
Do you hold yourself to high (sometimes impossibly high) standards? Do you tend to be self-critical and cringe at making mistakes? Is it even difficult sometimes to take pleasure in your own hard-won achievements?
These are signs of perfectionism, and perfectionists are more susceptible to insomnia than people who can shrug off their mistakes.
Looking for an objective test of insomnia?
New research suggests there’s a relationship between insomnia and sleep spindles—sudden bursts of fast electrical activity that occur in the brain mostly during stage 2 sleep. Investigators at Concordia University in Montreal found that students with lower spindle activity reported more stress-related sleep problems than students whose spindle activity was high.