Can Insomnia be Inherited?

Q:  “I’ve had insomnia for many years.  I have tried a number of different sleeping pills without much success.  Both my parents had insomnia, but never took pills for it.  Is it possible that I inherited insomnia from them?”

Answering that question first requires understanding what insomnia is and is not.

Insomnia is not a disease per se.  Instead, insomnia is invariably only a symptom of something else going on deeper that is causing the sleeping problems.

Insomnia is classified in two broad categories — primary and secondary.  Secondary insomnia is caused by a medical or psychiatric condition.  Primary insomnia, on the other hand, has no identifiable medical basis.  Of the two, primary insomnia is far more prevalent.

If you have secondary insomnia, caused by an identifiable medical issue, yes, that can be inherited … meaning yes you can be genetically predisposed to certain underlying medical conditions that can disrupt good sleep.

Legitimate medical issues that can disturb sleep are wide and varied.  They include physical problems like obstructive sleep apnea, allergies, and pain.  They also include psychiatric disorders like PTSD, debilitating anxiety, and substance abuse.

To sleep better with secondary insomnia, the underlying medical issues must be treated by a healthcare professional.  By getting to the root source, your sleep should improve.

On the other hand, primary insomnia has no identifiable medical basis.  It is not strictly a medical issue.  That’s why sleeping pills can potentially do more harm than good:  they only treat the symptom, leaving the nonmedical root sources unaddressed to cause ongoing problems.

Primary insomnia is often learned or conditioned.  In many cases, we do it to ourselves, unwittingly, by some combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  So in this sense, no, primary insomnia is not inherited.  Rather, primary insomnia is to a large extent a consequence of our choices, things we do and in some cases don’t do, our lifestyles, our beliefs about sleep, and our attitudes.

Many if not most people with secondary insomnia also have at least some overlap with primary insomnia.

The acknowledged standard of care to treat the nonmedical roots of both primary and secondary insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed for sleep improvement (CBT-I).   CBT-I is a collection of methods that enable you to create healthy sleep habits and re-learn better, more accurate beliefs and attitudes that support good sleep.  Requiring no drugs of any kind, CBT-I has been repeatedly proven to help most everyone sleep better.  Many who try it become normal sleepers again.

There are a number of ways to learn CBT-I methods, including counselors, sleep doctors, and sleep clinics.  If you are the self-help type, there are good online sources, including CBT-I based sleep training programs that are downloadable, effective, and affordable.

The best solution to insomnia is to directly treat the root sources, medical or nonmedical.  For primary insomnia, by controlling what we can, and by replacing counterproductive beliefs and attitudes about sleep with better, more positive, and accurate ones, we can create optimal conditions for the best possible sleep.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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