Psychophysiological Insomnia

Psychophysiological Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms & More

What is psychophysiological insomnia?

Psychophysiological insomnia refers to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep that are related to heightened physiological and cognitive arousal.

When someone is struggling with psychophysiological insomnia, they are more likely to become concerned about their sleep and how it will affect their day. There is an escalation in arousal that continues to make it difficult to initiate sleep and maintain it over time, causing a vicious cycle. They worry about their sleep, which interferes with their sleeping. The situation becomes worse with each sleepless night.

Two types of insomnia

There are two types of insomnia – primary and secondary. Primary insomnia occurs when an individual cannot attribute their sleep problems to a physical or mental problem. Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is associated with specific entities such as depression, sleep apnea, and chronic pain that keep a person awake.

Primary insomnia caused by emotional distress and unhelpful coping tactics is called psychophysiological insomnia.

Physical impairment or medication might not cause primary insomnia, but other factors still play a role. Some of these factors are psychophysiologically based and stem from anxiety about the consequences of being sleep deprived. This essentially means that primary insomnia is perpetuated by fear of being unable to sleep.

Related: Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

What causes psychophysiological insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by a variety of physiological factors. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Depression and grief
  • Mental or physical trauma
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Poor sleeping habits (such as using screens in bed, taking caffeine before bed, etc.)
  • Traveling across time zones

What are the signs of psychological insomnia?

Whenever you lie down for the night, do you feel like a deer in the headlights when you awaken? Are you alarmed, alert, or frightened when you hit the pillow?

If you’re not in your bed, do you tend to fall asleep somewhere else? Do you usually doze off any time but when it’s time for bed?

What kind of conversations do you have in the morning about how your night went? How well did you sleep the night before, and does that determine your psychological state?

You’re likely experiencing psychophysiological insomnia if you identify with these descriptions.

Check all: Psychological Disorders

How do I overcome psychophysiological insomnia?

To overcome psychophysiological insomnia, you must first understand it. Psychophysiological insomniacs experience something similar to performance anxiety when they try to sleep. It’s the same kind of anxiety people feel when they walk on the stage before a floodlight or go for their first job interview. Well…maybe not as bad as that.

When the time comes to perform on stage, primary insomniacs experience stage fright because they spend much of the day worrying about the consequences of not sleeping. Assuming that bedtime is “showtime,” the body and brain activate the system of arousal. Bedtime is interpreted as a threat by the brain, which responds by keeping the body on high alert rather than letting it slip into a state of forgetfulness.

All this goes away when the “stage lights” are turned off. Primary insomniacs are therefore able to sleep away from their bedroom with little to no trouble.

Related: Chronic Insomnia Disorder

Psychophysiological insomnia treatment

It is possible to cure psychophysiological insomnia. CBT is an effective treatment for insomnia caused by psychophysiological factors. Psychophysiological insomnia is driven by habits and thinking patterns related to sleep, which CBT was originally developed to treat.

Numerous clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT for insomnia (CBT-i). CBT-i equips individuals with the skills to identify and change unhelpful thinking and patterns of behavior. Reframing sleep improves their perception, reduces their time spent worrying about sleep, interrupts the cycle of sleep obsessions, and gradually improves their quality of sleep.

Can you cure psychophysiological insomnia?

Yes. Psychophysiological insomnia is an illness caused by unhelpful habits and thinking patterns that cause bodily arousal. It has been demonstrated time and time again that CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) can cure psychophysiological insomnia forever. The goal of treatment is to help you get back to your own healthy sleeping patterns, not to reach the perfect sleep pattern.

Read: Tips to Stop Restless Legs Syndrome

Can insomnia be psychological?

Yes. There can be several factors causing insomnia, such as psychological or physical factors. Even loud music and bright lights can prevent you from sleeping if you are anxious or worried.

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