Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. This is the major finding of a new study investigating the link between stress and the development of insomnia.
“Our study is among the first to show that it’s not the number of stressors, but your reaction to them that determines the likelihood of experiencing insomnia,” stated lead author Vivek Pillai, PhD and research fellow at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. “While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it’s what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights sleep and chronic insomnia.”
The study results, published in this month’s issue of the journal Sleep, show that coping with a stressful event by opting to bury one’s head in the sand or engaging in alcohol or drug use could be a major factor in developing insomnia due to stress. Just as detrimental to a good night’s sleep is the act of cognitive intrusion, where recurrent thoughts about the stressor continually pop into your mind, which can account for 69 percent of the total effect of stress exposure on insomnia.
The researchers availed themselves of a community-based sample of 2,892 good sleepers who presented no lifetime history of insomnia. Each participant provided examples of stressors experienced in the past year, such as divorce, death, financial issues or major illness to provide the study with a baseline. Participants also rated the severity and duration of each event.
In the initial questionnaire, measurements of cognitive intrusion and coping strategies employed by the participants were noted. After one year, the study was able to identify participants who had developed an insomnia disorder, defined as having symptoms of insomnia occurring at least three nights per week for a duration of one month or longer. Insomnia is also responsible for individuals experiencing daytime impairment or distress.
“This study is an important reminder that stressful events and other major life changes often cause insomnia,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. “If you are feeling overwhelmed by events in your life, talk to you doctor about strategies to reduce your stress level and improve your sleep.”
Most importantly, the authors of the study claim their research has identified potential targets for therapeutic interventions to educate and improve on coping responses to stress that could reduce the overall risk of insomnia. Mindfulness-based therapies, in particular, are effective in combating cognitive intrusion and improving sleep.
“Though we may not be able to control external events, we can reduce their burden by staying away from certain maladaptive behaviors,” said Pillai.
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the adult population will experience short-term insomnia disorder, according to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Short-term insomnia disorder is characterized by a time span of less than three months. It also is more prevalent among women than with men.
Supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health, this research was performed under the supervision of Thomas Roth, PhD, and Christopher Drake, PhD, both of the Sleep & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
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