Recent research has exposed a relationship between the way we cope with stress and the development of insomnia. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, self-distraction and other disengaging coping techniques for stress can increase the likelihood of insomnia in people with anxiety.1 Published on July 1st in the journal Sleep, researchers also found effects on sleep patterns when drugs and alcohol were involved with responding to stress.

Studying Good Sleepers

Researchers observed 2,892 participants with no previous history of insomnia. At the start of their study, these good sleepers reported stressful life events experienced in the previous year, along with the duration of each event and the degree of emotional strain it caused. They also filled out questionnaires that assessed and identified techniques they used to cope with stress. After one year, researchers discovered that some participants developed insomnia disorders, where insomnia occurred three nights a week for a month or longer after a stressful event.

What Happens When Good Sleepers Stress

"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 and chronic insomnia," said Vivek Pillai, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research fellow at the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital. Researchers found that poor coping techniques played a significant role in causing insomnia in people with stress and anxiety. Specifically, repeated thoughts about the subject causing stress accounted for 69% of the link between anxiety and insomnia.

Reducing the Risk of Stress-Triggered Insomnia

Beyond pinpointing that responses to stress can lead to insomnia, researchers also identified proper ways to cope with anxiety that may offset the risk of unhealthy sleep patterns. Authors mention that cognitive, mindfulness-based therapy, is a promising form of treatment that has been known to combat negative coping strategies and improve sleep.

These findings emphasize avoiding unhealthy responses to stress. Pillai notes that, while anxiety-inducing events are often out of our control, "we can reduce their burden by staying away from certain maladaptive behaviors."

Date of original publication: .

Updated on November 10, 2015 .


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1Vivek Pillai, Thomas Roth, Heather M. Mullins, Christopher L. Drake. Moderators and Mediators of the Relationship Between Stress and Insomnia: Stressor Chronicity, Cognitive Intrusion, and Coping. SLEEP, 2014; DOI:10.5665/sleep.3838