Having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or even waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep again are all characteristics of a common sleep disorder called insomnia. It can sap energy levels, affect your mood, and even have a negative impact on your health.
The negative consequences don’t begin and end with sleep, however, as a new study finds that people who worry about poor sleep have more emotional and physical problems during the day than those who don’t. This was found to hold true regardless of how well each person sleep.
The study carried out by researchers at the University of Alabama reviewed over a dozen sleep studies dating back over 20 years. They went so far as to coin a term called insomnia identity, whereby a person’s conviction of having poor sleep is more indicative of poor sleep outcomes than poor sleep itself.
The findings of their study discovered that insomnia not only increased the risk of health disorders, but also identified a psychological component as well. Those who reported sleep problems, even if they slept well, had insomnia-like effects. Those who were considered poor sleepers but didn’t complain about it reported healthier outcomes than those with insomnia.
“We thought that poor sleep and insomnia are linked, but now we know this is a soft link. There are clearly people with poor sleep who are relaxed about it, letting it roll off their back, and they are at low risk for impaired functioning. Insomnia identity drives the daytime dysfunction, not the sleep,” said Dr. Kenneth Lichstein, UA professor of psychology.
Additionally, it was found that about a third of people who complain about insomnia sleep well. It is believed that insomnia identity comes from anxiety about not achieving what the person believes is the perfect amount of sleep or having poor sleep habits, even if these are just minor problems that don’t constitute actual sleep deprivation.
“Insomnia identity drives worry, and worry is the fuel of stress. That stress has physical effects on our life. This proposes a new way of looking at insomnia,” he said. “These findings have been out there, but have never been organized and their implications have not previously been clearly focused on. It’s helpful to re-conceptualize our view of insomnia in such a way that focuses on the critical clinical aspects of the disorder,” said Lichstein.