How negative thoughts feed insomnia

One of the great accomplishments in cognitive psychology over the past several decades is arguably the defining of recognizable categories of thought distortions by psychiatrists Aaron Beck and David Burns.  Distortions of rational thought are often at the root of many psychiatric disorders like depression and generalized anxiety disorder.  Similarly, negative and often inaccurate thoughts specifically about sleep also tend to fuel and perpetuate insomnia.

In his book “Feeling good:  New mood therapy” (one of the top self-help books ever published), Dr. Burns lists 10 of these very common categories of thought distortions.  And it’s probably safe to say nearly all of us have succumbed to one or more of them at one time or another.

As one example, consider “disqualifying the positive”.  This occurs when you only see the negative aspects of a certain situation you are in, and completely overlook any positives as if they don’t count.  It’s not a valid or accurate representation of what’s truly there, and such distortion tends to feed worry and anxiety — sometimes to the point of being debilitating.

Moreover, seeing the situation more accurately can work to almost immediately lift one’s spirits and reduce depression.  Dr. Burns cites clinical evidence showing more rational understanding actually works better than drug therapy.

Specifically for sleep, insomniacs are prone to many common but inaccurate distortions of thought that tend to feed insomnia.  Such as, “I must fall asleep RIGHT NOW because I’ve got this very important (presentation, job, assignment, exam, project due, etc.) tomorrow, and if I don’t get a solid 8 hours I’ll be a complete wreck tomorrow!”

Which of course makes it nearly impossible to sleep at that point.

Interestingly, empirical studies have found that particular negative belief about insomnia is simply not true.  In reality, we adapt and usually perform well even when sleep deprived; and this is true both in terms of physical performance and cognitive performance —  Insomniacs tend to perform just as well as good sleepers.

But for insomniacs, it typically doesn’t feel that way. Studies also confirm that insomniacs tend to feel like they don’t perform well, even when they do.

So the real difference is in mood and perception, not performance.

You typically don’t hear much about this side of insomnia, because the media tends to be so one-sided.  What we do hear about more or less constantly is how awful sleep deprivation is and how much damage it causes.  Worry and fear can sell a lot of sleeping pills and herbal sleep supplements.

But knowing the negative consequences of a bad night are typically limited mostly to mood and perception, and not necessarily to performance, helps to reduce anxiety about sleep.  And the corresponding reduction in worry often results in better sleep.

By reducing the pressure we put on ourselves about sleep, we can relax more easily, let go, and fall asleep easier.  And learning how to do this consistently and when you want is a permanent tool you can use for the rest of your life.

Better yet, this method of cognitive restructuring is completely drug free.

So if you are subject to sometimes sleepless nights and don’t have an underlying medical issue causing insomnia, consider using these clinically proven non-pharmacological methods for sleep improvement.  Doing so will help you understand how some of your thoughts — especially about sleep — are distorted and inaccurate.  By learning to safely let these negative thoughts go, you can help yourself sleep better.

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

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9 Comments on “How negative thoughts feed insomnia”


  1. […] about sleep, what you believe to be true about insomnia, actually is a key part of the solution.  Negative sleep thoughts are a potent fuel the prolongs and perpetuates insomnia.  Fortunately, there are good proven […]


  2. […] sleep thoughts, and shows you how to replace them with positive sleep thoughts, a process known as cognitive restructuring.  Doing so is well worth the effort, because this may be the true root of your […]


  3. […] for the psychological part, you are right in that recurring negative thoughts about sleep are a potent fuel for insomnia.  For solutions, check out adult sleep training methods […]


  4. […] the monster is a fiction you to some extent are creating and empowering by false beliefs.  These negative sleep thoughts are often the raw fuel that prolongs and perpetuates insomnia in the first […]


  5. […] realize this is in fact an exaggeration, a false and inaccurate belief that may in fact be fueling your insomnia.   This actually is very common among […]


  6. […] possibility that your intensely negative thoughts about sleep are in fact to at least some degree the raw fuel that is perpetuating and prolonging your […]


  7. […] A:  What you are experiencing is very common with insomniacs.  Your description — and expectation for trouble sleeping — are a great examples of what’s known as negative sleep thoughts. […]


  8. […] some time in bed may also be useful to challenge some of your negative thinking and reality check your self-doubts.  These kinds of pessimistic thoughts are something we all experience from time to time, and they […]


  9. […] be assured as you continue learning all the CBT methods, you’ll soon have the tools needed to effectively counter these negative, stressful thoughts.  These negative sleep thoughts […]


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