What are the perpetuating factors of insomnia?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Regardless of how insomnia was triggered, cognitive and behavioral mechanisms are generally accepted to be the factors that perpetuate it. Cognitive mechanisms include misconceptions about normal sleep requirements and excessive worry about the ramifications of the daytime effects of inadequate sleep. Conditioned environmental cues causing insomnia develop from the continued association of sleeplessness with situations and behaviors that are typically related to sleep.

As a result, patients often become obsessive about their sleep or try too hard to fall asleep. These dysfunctional beliefs often produce sleep disruptive behaviors, such as trying to catch up on lost sleep with daytime naps or sleeping in, which in turn reduces the patients’ natural homeostatic drive to sleep at their habitual bedtime. Learned sleep-preventing associations are characterized by overconcern about inability to fall asleep.

Consequently, these patients develop conditioned arousal to stimuli that would normally be associated with sleep (ie, heightened anxiety and ruminations about going to sleep in their bedroom). A cycle then develops in which the more these patients strive to sleep, the more agitated they become, and the less they are able to fall asleep. They also have ruminative thoughts or clock watching as they are trying to fall asleep in their bedroom.

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