Stress can cause insomnia depending on how it is managed, according to a new study led by an Indian-origin researcher.
How people react to stressors has a stronger influence on people’s ability to sleep than the number of factors that are causing the stress, researchers said.
A team at the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan showed that giving up on dealing with stress or drinking alcohol or taking drugs “significantly mediated the relationship between stress exposure and insomnia development”.
The study also shows that self-distraction techniques such as watching TV or going to the cinema can also have an effect, which scientists admitted was surprising.
Vivek Pillai, lead author of the research, said this shows that while a stressful event can lead to people struggling to sleep, how they act in response to stress “can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia”.
He pointed out that while people may not able to control external events, they can reduce their burden by avoiding various “maladaptive” behaviours.
Dr Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep, added that if people feel overwhelmed by the events in their life, they should talk to their doctor about strategies to reduce their stress levels and improve their sleeping patterns.
“This study extends our understanding of the critical role played by cognitive arousal in the origin of chronic insomnia by showing that, following stressful events among good sleepers, the subsequent risk of insomnia was significantly elevated for those who reported uncontrollable intrusive thoughts associated with the stressful experience,” Professor Kevin Morgan, director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough, said.