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Misbelieving you've got sleep problems can be more harmful than actual lack of sleep

26 October 2017

“In the dark, in the quiet, in the lonely stillness, the aggrieved struggle to rescue sleep from vigilance.”

This arresting sentence introduces a new review of insomnia in Behaviour Research and Therapy that addresses a troubling fact observed in sleep labs across the world: poor sleep is not sufficient to make people consider themselves to have the condition… and poor sleep may not even be necessary.

The paper, by Kenneth Lichstein at the University of Alabama, explores the implications of “Insomnia Identity”: how it contributes to health problems, and may be an obstacle to recovery.

The hallmark of insomnia is regularly having such poor sleep that it affects your daily function. This implies a person with insomnia will have poor sleep, as measured objectively, and that they will complain about their lack of sleep.

To get a sense of how poor sleep and reports of insomnia interact, Lichstein reviewed twenty studies that measured each of these aspects separately, with questions like “How long does it typically take you to get to sleep?” on the one hand, and on the other, questions like “Are you dissatisfied with your sleep?” or direct probes into how confident the person was that they struggled with insomnia.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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