What is psychophysiological insomnia?

Andreas Meistad profile picture
Andreas Meistad
Jun 5, 20214 min read
A woman awake in bed

What is the Definition of Psychophysiological Insomnia?

Psychophysiological insomnia is a type of chronic insomnia characterized by difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep due to heightened bodily and cognitive arousal.

A person that struggles with psychophysiological insomnia will have a tendency to worry about their sleep and how a lack of sleep will affect their day. Over time this becomes a vicious cycle, causing a heightened state of arousal which again causes difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep. In other words, worrying about sleep prevents them from sleeping. Each sleepless night only makes the situation worse.

The Two Types of Insomnia

Broadly, insomnia is classified into two types — primary and secondary. Primary insomnia refers to insomnia that does not relate to a physical or mental health disorder. Psychophysiological insomnia is a form of primary insomnia where negative emotions and unhelpful coping strategies drive insomnia.

On the other hand, secondary insomnia is caused by tangible, identifiable conditions such as depression, sleep apnea, or chronic pain, which keep people awake at night.

Primary insomnia might not be linked to physical disease or medication, but various factors still bring it on. Many of these factors have a psychophysiological origin and are rooted in anxiety about the consequences of sleeplessness. In other words, fear of not being able to sleep frequently drives primary insomnia.

How do I know if I am suffering from psychophysiological insomnia?

Do you go to bed at night feeling tired and sleepy, only to feel like a deer in the headlights when your head hits the pillow—alert, awake, alarmed? Tend to fall asleep anywhere but in your bed? Or, do you tend to doze off any time but your bedtime? Do your morning conversations revolve around how bad or good your night has been? And is your psychological state mainly determined by how well or poorly you slept? If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, there is a high probability you are experiencing psychophysiological insomnia.

Overcoming psychophysiological insomnia

The first step to overcoming psychophysiological insomnia is to understand it. When people with psychophysiological insomnia go to bed and attempt to sleep, they experience something akin to performance anxiety; the same performance anxiety people get when they walk onto a floodlit stage or have their first job interview. Okay, maybe not that bad, but close.

Because primary insomniacs often spend a great deal of the day worrying about the consequences of not getting sleep, they get stage fright when the time comes. The brain and body assume that bedtime is "showtime," and the pressure to perform activates the arousal system. The brain interprets the bed or bedtime as a threat and puts the body on high alert instead of letting it slip into forgetfulness.

Turn off the "stage lights," and all this goes away. This is why primary insomniacs have no trouble sleeping away from their bed.

Psychophysiological insomnia treatment

Fortunately, psychophysiological insomnia is curable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for psychophysiological insomnia. Initially developed to treat depression, it was eventually adapted to help people change habits and thinking patterns when it comes to sleep, which essentially is the driving force of psychophysiological insomnia.

For years, CBT for insomnia (CBT-i) has been the gold standard for treating insomnia and has been proven to work in numerous clinical trials. It empowers people to identify and change unhelpful thinking and habits. It reframes their perception of sleep, reduces the time they spend fretting about sleep, interrupts the iterative sleep obsession sequence, and gradually breaks the insomnia cycle.

Cure Your Psychophysiological Insomnia Today!

To learn more and use Dawn’s proven CBT-I to cure your psychophysiological insomnia, reach out to us today!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the definition of psychophysiological insomnia?

Psychophysiological insomnia is a form of primary insomnia resulting from constantly worrying about sleep. In other words, a dysfunctional thinking pattern leads to difficulty sleeping.

2. Can you cure psychophysiological insomnia?

Yes. Since psychophysiological insomnia results from bodily arousal caused by unhelpful habits and thinking patterns, it can be cured. In fact, CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) has time and again helped patients cure psychophysiological insomnia once and for all.

3. Can insomnia be psychological?

Yes. Insomnia can be due to any factor, psychological or physical, that prevents you from sleeping. Anxiety and worry can prevent you from sleeping just as much as loud music or bright lights.

4. What are the major physiological causes of insomnia?

There are many physiological causes of insomnia. The major ones include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Grief and depression
  • Recent physical or mental trauma
  • Irregular bedtime schedule
  • Poor sleeping habits (such as taking caffeine before bed, using screens in bed, etc.)
  • Traveling between time zones

Andreas Meistad profile picture
Andreas Meistad

Therapist specializing in applying CBT principles for the treatment of insomnia.

It’s time to stop blaming the night monsters.

Let’s work together to transform your sleep for the better.