Is your insomnia down to hyperarousal and relentless wakefulness?

by Martin Reed on 1 August 2011 in insomnia cures

I have to admit that most members of my insomnia help forums tell me they are tired and would love to get a full night’s sleep.

However, according to Dr Rubin Naiman many insomniacs are hyperaroused – meaning that they’re not sleeping simply because they are not feeling sleepy enough.

Apparently, hyperarousal is characterized by the endocrine, immune and nervous systems being over activated.

Additionally, those who are hyperaroused often have an elevated body temperature, rapid metabolic rates and an increased waking EEG. Psychologically, hyperarousal is associated with obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Whilst this may be fine during the day when we’re busy, getting to sleep at night can be a problem for the hyperaroused.

Dr Naiman refers to this issue as relentless wakefulness. He argues that we need to identify relentless wakefulness as an insomnia cause so that we can work on healing our sleep.

Here’s where things get really interesting – Dr Naiman argues that we need a 12-step recovery process for insomnia, just as we have for alcoholsim.

In effect, we need to:

  • Accept our insomnia
  • Admit that we are powerless and that our insomnia has become unmanageable
  • Seek support for our insomnia
  • Stop trying too hard to fall asleep
  • Place trust in something greater than ourselves

Generally speaking, I’m all for any additional recovery processes for insomnia.

I definitely think there’s something behind accepting insomnia and avoiding the temptation to try forcing yourself to fall asleep. It’s also worth mentioning that having faith in something greater than ourselves doesn’t need to involve religion.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this one. Do you think your insomnia is related to being hyperaroused? Do you think insomniacs need a 12-step program? Perhaps you have a better idea for a standardized insomnia treatment (if you believe one is even possible).

The comments form is below, as usual.

Source: Huffington Post

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Stephan August 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Good post, and an interesting take. Certainly hyperarousal is a factor, but not the only factor, for many insomniacs. While I agree with Dr. Naiman on some things, I disagree on several others. I think he’s reading way too much between the lines.

For instance, the inability to sleep at night can be due to many other simple factors besides hyperarousal, such as this: allowing too much time for sleep.

Many people fall victim to the “8-hour myth”, and feel if they don’t get 8 solid hours of sleep they’ll be a wreck the next day. Nonsense. There is nothing written in stone that says 8 hours or any other number is the right number for you or anyone else.

If you allow 8 hours but only need for instance 6, then you may have a couple of hours lying in bed tossing and turning in frustration, wondering what’s wrong. But if you are not negatively affected during your waking hours, if you feel no grogginess, irritability, or fatigue, you may just need less sleep than you think you need. That’s not insomnia.

And that’s just one possible explanation besides hyperarousal. Exercise, diet, and a host of other factors may be involved.

If a 12-step program helps someone sleep better, fine. You do what works. But I think there are much better and more direct solutions.

I also agree with Dr. Naiman that one major source of hyperarousal is stress. But for chronic unremitting stress, I would suggest working on stress management would be a better and more direct solution than an addiction program. That allows you to more directly get to the root of the problem.

Not sure about a “standardized” insomnia program, because everyone is different, and whatever sleep solution you use must be in some way tailored to your own specific situation. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy applied specifically to insomnia works for the majority of people. This has been documented repeatedly in clinical situations. Absent a medical cause for sleeping problems, a CBT based sleep training program is where I would suggest looking first.

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Martin Reed August 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Good point about the ’8 hour myth’ – in fact, new research suggests that five hours of sleep is enough.

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A. Marina Fournier August 19, 2011 at 5:12 am

•endocrine, immune and nervous systems being over activated

My skin’s tactile sensors always seem to run on overload. Always have. Justifies buying high thread-count bedding. However, I don’t think my endocrine system is over activated–quite the opposite.

.•Additionally, those who are hyperaroused often have an elevated body temperature, rapid metabolic rates and an increased waking EEG

Rapid metabolic rates sound like leaner folk, and I’m not one. Elevated body temperature? For several years now, since the onset of the menopause process. No hot flashes, just always too warm. Haven’t had an EEG since I was 7 (long story), so I have no idea if my EEG is normal or ab-.

Stephan makes very good points. I will admit to being leary of linking insomnia to a 12-step program. I am definitely not in the “let go, let God/dess” camp.

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