Is insomnia really “all in my head”?

Q:  When I tell people about the problems insomnia causes me, I hear all too often “it’s just in your head”.  And that only makes me more aggravated about the whole situation.  Is insomnia really all just in my head?

A:  It depends.  What is the real underlying basis for your sleeping problems? 

It’s important to understand that insomnia is a complaint, not a disorder.  It is a symptom, not a disease.  Insomnia is the manifestation of something else going on deeper that is the true underlying cause of the problem.

Nevertheless, it can be frustrating when others minimize the difficulties of insomnia by reducing it to it’s “all in your head”.

If you have an underlying medical issue causing your sleeplessness, then no, insomnia’s not all in your head.  And there are many legitimate medical issues than can cause insomnia, including pain, obstructive sleep apnea, allergies, arthritis, restless leg syndrome, and so on.

There are also many psychiatric disorders that can cause insomnia, including clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.  In this case, you could argue that it’s “all in your head”, although a psychiatric disorder is a legitimate medical issue over which you may have little or no control.

Then there’s the whole category of what’s known as psychophysiologic insomnia, which the Institute of Medicine estimates as many as 30 million Americans (roughly 10% of the population) deals with. This very common form of sleeplessness is typically caused by some non-medical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.

If you are one of the millions with psychophysiologic insomnia, then the “excessive worry” part most definitely is in your head.  This is the group that stays up tossing and turning for hours, worrying about falling asleep.  And for many, that worry is the raw fuel that enables and perpetuates insomnia.

This is not to say that you have this, just that it is very common.  So it’s important to see your doctor if you are having sleep problems, to either treat or rule out a medical or psychiatric basis.

Because so much insomnia is caused by excessive worry and bad sleep habits, it would not be surprising if your doctor finds no identifiable medical basis.  In that case, we suggest looking at non-medical solutions.  And the best of these are contained in the combined methods of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed for sleep improvement.

CBT is a completely drug-free way to counter insomnia that includes potent methods to counter the underlying negative thought patterns that result in worry, stress, and anxiety about the idea of sleep.  It also helps you create a lifestyle and conditions optimal for producing better sleep.  The methods combine synergistically, and help most people who try them.

So it is possible it’s all in your head, see your doctor to find out for sure.  But rest assured insomnia is quite treatable.  And be confident you can address this and improve your sleep.

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

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