Hyperarousal and Insomnia: How Does Hyperarousal Lead to Insomnia?

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The leading cause of insomnia is sleep anxiety and the second leading cause of insomnia is hyperarousal. With sleep anxiety you end up staring at the clock all night long watching the minutes of sleep you aren’t getting tick by. With each minute or half hour that passes by you become more anxious. This anxiety leads to an even further inability to fall asleep. The person with sleep anxiety worries about not being able to go to sleep and how their lack of sleep will affect their performance the next day. The sleep anxiety consumes them to the point where they are unable to go to sleep at all.

Hyperarousal and Insomnia

Insomnia caused by hyperarousal is when your autonomic nervous system goes into overdrive and causes you to take on a fight-or-flight response. This instinctive mechanism-triggered by the brain-could be caused by a real or a perceived threat; leaving the person with the triggered stress response to have continuous nights of lack of sleep. To find out more about what hyperarousal really is, check out What does Hyperarousal Mean? What is Hyperarousal?

Learn Why Hyperarousal Causes Insomnia

Since the brain has released triggers throughout the body the person with insomnia is unable to fall asleep no matter how hard they try. Most often the sufferers of this condition are those with PTSD and those with high levels of stress in their life. These high levels of stress could be due to relationship, financial, career or other life stressors that have caused their mind to believe they are in a state of danger.

What Does Hyperarousal Feel Like

Most often the signs and symptoms of hyperarousal at night involve the person being on guard, very alert, more perceptive, sometimes with a racing heart and increased blood pressure. All of these signs and symptoms of hyperarousal are coupled with tension. The person feels like a coiled spring ready to be released and have an anxiety that something bad is going to happen and their brain is now wired to keep them awake to be on guard in case something does happen.

The Fight-or-Flight Instinct and How it Can Cause Insomnia

This instinct of fight-or-flight has been with humans since the dawn of time, back when cavemen had to fear the saber-toothed tiger. It is something that soldiers in war zones have to deal with as does a spouse in a domestic violence relationship.

When there is a real cause for the hyperarousal, the effects of the adrenaline will wear off once the threat has ended. For those who have gone into a state of hyperarousal due to reasons that will not cause physical injury, such as financial worries it may take longer for the brain to signal a release of hormones and other mechanisms to stop the fight-or-flight response.

The brain sees the chronic stress you are suffering from as a threat and causes the hyperarousal that causes your insomnia. The reason it may take longer for the brain to reverse the hyperarousal is because the chronic stress will likely continue in your life for a while. The brain may need help understanding the difference. This may be a time when you should seek medical help or mental help involving talk therapy so that you can help manage your stress and thus end your state of hyperarousal.


Hyperarousal and Chronic Insomnia


Chronic psychophysiological insomnia: hyperarousal and/or inhibition deficits? An ERPs investigation.[Sleep. 2008]


Insomnia | Psychology Today