There are really only two types of insomnia—that which is complicated by sleep anxiety and that which isn’t. In reality, there are many types of insomnia, but let’s limit the discussion to just that one variable: SA and no-SA.
Let us be clear on the fact that SA doesn’t exist only in a black and white, yes or no, have it or don’t have it sort of way. It manifests on a vague sort of sliding scale, in varying degrees, with sporadic episodes interspersed with no episodes, and let’s not forget the unconscious aspects of it that remain hidden below the surface of awareness. If you recognize all the subtleties and hidden areas of sleep anxiety, you will realize that it is far more common than you might have thought, and you will also realize that perhaps you have more of it than you once thought.
Statistics? Nope, not here. Wild Guess? You Betcha!
I have no statistics on how much of insomnia is the complicated type and how much is the uncomplicated type. (Of course I’m defining that solely in terms of SA. All insomnia can be complicated in its own way). Therefore, I cannot give any numbers of how common it really is. But since this is an opinionated article, based on nothing but the ravings of my own mind, I will venture to guess that sleep anxiety affects somewhere between 65-80 percent of all chronic insomniacs—a wide enough range to have some real potential for accuracy! My own bias is toward the higher range which I would push up to possibly 85 percent—but that bias is due to personal experience and is not a reliable representation of the 70 million insomnia sufferers out there whom I have never interviewed.
My Exclusive Theory
I have a theory about insomnia NOT complicated by sleep anxiety. Based on my own experience, I can attest to the fact that UNcomplicated insomnia tends to go away a lot faster. This is something I have observed in other people as well as myself, so I think it is a valid argument. Insomnia in general tends to self-correct relatively quickly, especially once the underlying cause or trigger is identified and treated, but sometimes even if it isn’t. Perhaps a few cautious sleeping pills get you back on track.
As I have mentioned in many other articles, “original” (Uncomplicated by SA) insomnia can have many causes. But these multitudes of causes tend to congregate in three pretty distinct areas—mental/emotional, physical/physiological, and environmental. And of course let us not forget that these areas can blend into each other, and combine in a hundred different ways, making “simple insomnia” not exactly ABC-123 simple.
But compared to the layers of complications that sleep anxiety adds on, it ends up being pretty simple.
Let’s Discuss Causes Again, Shall We?
As a review, mental and emotional causes of insomnia include all those “stress-related” phenomena that may arise out of going through any number of life changes and trials. Anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, depression, frustration and even happiness and excitement due to whatever is going on in your life can trigger an episode of insomnia that can last pretty long. But not as long as it does when you throw in the vicious feedback loop of sleep anxiety.
Physical causes covers a wide range of possibilities, including the ravages of jet lag-induced biorhythm disruption, nagging pain of osteoarthritis, congestion of spring allergies, menopause-related hot flashes and loads of other fun stuff. Insomnia stemming from these causes usually clears up once you treat the problem successfully—unless, of course, you have begun to worry about how much sleep you’re getting and the effect on your health. Then you have a much longer, tortured and twisted road ahead of you.
Environmental causes include excess noise, light and temperature/humidity, as well as hard, lumpy beds, but don’t forget the effect that these factors have on your mental and physical state, since obviously a worn-out mattress can give you back or neck pain, bad air can give you asthma, noise can give you anger and too much light at the wrong time can cause biorhythm disturbances. But even these layered causes of insomnia can get resolved, and when they do, sleep will blissfully reenter your life—providing, of course, that you haven’t slapped on a few more thick, hard layers of complications from sleep anxiety.
Then there is the case of the Unknown Cause of insomnia. Here is the time you can’t sleep and don’t have a clue why. You toss and turn and when you wake up for a routine bathroom break, you can’t return to sleep like you have done for the last 30 years of your life. The medical checkup shows you to be in perfect health and some mental introspection has revealed no obvious trigger in any of the three common areas.
Even so, insomnia stemming from unknown causes can STILL go away on its own, without any deliberate intervention, other than some common sense measures of avoiding caffeine, eating better food, getting a little more exercise and eliminating some bad habits you may have developed by watching old horror movies at 3:00 AM. You give yourself a chance to get back into the groove of regular sleep, and it works! Well, it might work, depending on whether or not you have developed any complications, such as, OH RIGHT, sleep anxiety.
Let’s Discuss CBT Now
Now here is something I need to point out. The CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, that I’ve offered here on this site, is designed to treat SA. It is not meant to do anything else—that’s really its only purpose. And by doing so, CBT is not necessarily a sleep cure. Its job is to whittle away at the layers you’ve built onto your original insomnia that has rendered it pretty much impossible to go away.
In other words—you had original insomnia, caused by something, either known or unknown. Perhaps stress of some kind or a change in environment or any of the other 327 causes of sleeplessness. Perhaps that cause was resolved or perhaps it wasn’t—it’s possible that it was, but you don’t even know it! And why?
Because now all you can do is worry about your lack of sleep and the effect it is having on your life. And so you are being tossed around in a vicious feedback loop of worry, that is keeping you awake at night. Perversely, it won’t even LET you sleep even when you are SO VERY TIRED because, well, that’s just the way it works. It’s just one big old honkin’ paradox.
A Miracle Cure? Dream On…
Knowing what you know now, do you honestly believe that CBT is a cure-all for all insomnia ills? Of course it isn’t. CBT is just the beginning of the journey. As you chip away at the layers of complication that sleep anxiety has wrought, you will see some improvement in your sleep but it will most likely be episodic. This is a hard, hard nut to crack. Remember, the anxiety part of the equation is what’s causing the most difficulties for you. Sadly, it only goes away slowly, with many frustrating relapses. That is the nature of anxiety.
CBT is not perfect, but it is the only thing I know that helps loosen the stranglehold anxiety has on your sleep. Its purpose is to uncomplicate insomnia. Once you have simplified your insomnia, it will either go away on its own after a while, or the true, original causes will become more apparent to you. Then you can work on those causes for a more permanent resolution.
If I ever find anything that works better than CBT and the calming voice, I will certainly let you know. It is possible that there is something better out there. I’m still looking but so far, I’ve come up empty.
Once insomnia and sleep anxiety have entered your life, you will likely experience it again, perhaps many times. Whenever I have sleep problems, I usually develop a bit of anxiety complications. Each time, I have enlisted the calming voice to un-complicate things. And each time, my insomnia has gone away, sometimes quickly and sometimes not so quickly.
But every single time I know that worrying about how much sleep I’m getting will lead me down a useless, purposeless, pointless road. This road serves nothing and no one. It just circles around and around in an endless, futile loop. Talking back to your anxiety and making it clear to your brain that it serves no purpose in your life will help you stay off that road. But even if you find yourself on that circular path once again, remember that no matter how many times you go around, you can step off at any time. Just take out the journal and ask yourself “What is worrying me about not sleeping?” Then take the pen and start writing!