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Breakthrough Study Unmasks Five Different 'Faces' Of Insomnia

Even though it's the second-most prevalent and burdensome mental disorder -- one in ten is a sufferer -- chronic insomnia is not well understood, resulting in ineffective treatment and lots of sleepless nights.

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience are hoping to change that with their breakthrough discovery -- insomnia is not one disorder as previously thought, but five.

The findings -- published in The Lancet Psychiatry on January 7 -- are being compared with the revelation that dementia was made up of subgroups including Alzheimer's.

The five faces of insomnia

The key to revealing the five 'faces' of the disorder was the researchers' decision to try a different approach.

Unlike earlier attempts, they didn't try to classify insomnia according to sleep complaints -- such as difficulty falling asleep versus early morning awakening -- but instead turned their focus to their test subjects' personality traits.

READ MORE: None Of Us Are Getting Enough Sleep And Here's How To Fix It

Five different but related types emerged:

Type one

People with the first type of insomnia may display distressing traits such as neuroticism and feeling down or tense.

Type two

People with type two experienced less distress that type one, and were more reward-sensitive.

Type three

Type three sufferers were similar to type two, but were reward-insensitive.

Type four

Type four experienced even less distress than the three preceding types, but stressful life events were shown to induce severe and long-lasting insomnia.

Type five

Again, type five is similar to four except they were unaffected by stressful life events.

How this will help

Sleep coach Elina Winnel told 10 daily her own experience with clients supports the study -- she most commonly sees sufferers of type one -- and that personality "absolutely" plays a large role in insomnia.

In fact, personality is such an important contributing factor that Winnel can tell by observing a child, how likely they are to develop insomnia later in life.

In her opinion, the findings could help dispell what she calls a "blanket" approach to treatment and instead direct the focus to the individual.

"The benefit of this study is that it will begin to encourage people and practitioners to stop thinking sleep is just related to simplistic factors such as the whether their bedroom is tidy or if they are drinking too much coffee, and help people to understand that a good night’s sleep starts the moment we wake up," she said.

"The way we show up during the day has a huge effect on our sleep at night."

"People’s struggles with sleep need to be addressed differently depending on both their personality type and the trigger for the insomnia."

READ MORE: How Screens Are Sabotaging Your Sleep And What To Do About It

A difference of opinion

The researchers found the 'type' of insomnia people had didn't change after five years, which suggested that the condition was "anchored" in the brain.

Winnel said her experience was different.

"There is an assumption that personalities cannot change [but] I help people change the elements of their thinking that contribute to insomnia," she told 10 daily.

For example, the thinking pattern of catastrophising -- where you make something sound worse than it actually is -- can make falling asleep an impossibility, as it produces high levels of stress hormones.

In Winnel's opinion, this pattern can be changed, or at least significantly reduced.

Finding sleep

Bearing in mind the solution for each type of insomnia is different, Winnel did have some catch-all tips for finding the cause behind sleepless nights.

"Part of the process for many people is to understand how they create or react to stress. However, many people do not realise they are as stressed as what they actually are because it has become a normal state for them," she told 10 daily.

The key to getting an idea of our stress levels is to tune in and become more aware of what is happening in our body.

The next step is beginning to change this, according to Winnel.

This doesn't necessarily mean removing the cause of the stress -- by changing your job or leaving your partner -- but rather, understanding how you perceive yourself and the world, and how this creates stress for you.

"The number one factor affecting people’s sleep is their nervous system. Keeping this in balance is one of the most important keys to sleeping well," she said.

In Winnel's experience, many people try to resolve their insomnia on their own, but that can often be fruitless.

"If your sleep struggles are affecting your health, work or personal life, it may be time to get help," was her advice.

Feature image: Getty.