In news that will not surprise those who struggle to sleep through the night, a new study confirms that ongoing stress — and the way we perceive and react to it — could have an effect on a common sleep disorder.
Publishing in the journal SLEEP, researchers from Henry Ford Hospital found an association between insomnia risk and stress, particularly ongoing, chronic stress. Cognitive intrusions — experiencing unwanted, continuous thoughts about the stressor — also seemed to predict insomnia.
Researchers noted that past studies have only looked at cognitive intrusion in the context of sleep — thinking about what time it is, or how tired you’ll be the next day because of your insomnia, for instance — but this study is the first to look at cognitive intrusion as a response to stress and how that may affect sleep.
The study is based on data from nearly 3,000 people who had a current or lifetime history of insomnia who answered questionnaires regarding stress, coping and insomnia. The more stressors a person had, the higher the risk of insomnia — for each additional stressor, the odds of developing insomnia increase 19 percent.
Aside from cognitive intrusions, there are some stress-coping strategies that negatively affect sleep. Substance abuse, for instance, is associated with sleep disturbance. “Increased substance use is associated with tolerance and dose escalation, and a vicious cycle leading to insomnia and substance abuse is set in motion,” researchers wrote in the study.
Another not-so-good way to deal with stress that seems to hinder sleep? Something called “behavioral disengagement” (in other words, giving up from trying to accomplish the goal with which stress is interfering).
Researchers noted some limitations to the study, mostly surrounding the initial context for stress. The study measured only how stress-coping strategies affected sleep directly -- not how successful they were in reducing stress, which could theoretically have an impact on sleep. They also pointed out that there may be a tertiary factor linking stress and sleeplessness. “It is plausible that individuals at risk for insomnia are also more likely to perceive life events as stressful, such that a shared underlying factor may increase vulnerability both to stress and insomnia," they wrote.