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.
It used to be that the only predictable thing about my insomnia was that it occurred at times of high drama. Anticipation of a trip to the Canary Islands? Nothing like a little excitement to keep me awake at night. Difficulties with a colleague at work? Stress, too, was a set-up for trouble sleeping. Whenever my life got the least bit interesting or challenging, sleep went south.
But sleep is easier to manage now that I’m able to see more patterns in my insomnia and the insomnia of others.
David walked in late to a presentation I was giving on managing insomnia. I’d surveyed my audience and launched into a talk for retirees. But here was David, a high school teacher in his early twenties, and I realized I was going to have to change the remarks I was about to make.
We think of insomnia as mainly an affliction of older adults. But the facts don’t bear this out.