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Link between insomnia and paranoid thinking identified

DECEMBER 23, 2008

New research from Dr Daniel Freeman, clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, identifies a link between sleeplessness and paranoid thinking.  The study, published online this month in the journal Schizophrenia Research, shows that a potential consequence of insomnia is suspiciousness. 

In the general population, individuals with insomnia were five times more likely to have high levels of paranoid thinking than people who were sleeping well. In an extension of the research, over 50% of individuals attending psychiatric services for severe paranoia were found to have clinical insomnia.

Dr Freeman, a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow said: ‘Insomnia has long been known to be very common. On any given night one in three people will have difficulties getting or staying asleep. For one in ten people this will be occurring several nights a week. As most of us know, insomnia can cause anxiety, sadness, and irritability. This study highlights another potential consequence: feeling that others are deliberately trying to get at us. Higher levels of sleeplessness were clearly associated with higher levels of paranoia. Regular, good-quality sleep is important to our psychological well-being.”

“It is very plausible that sleeplessness increases the risk of paranoid fears. A few nights of poor sleep can make us feel stressed, muddled in our thinking, and disconnected from the world. These are ideal conditions for paranoid fears to take hold. This is the first study to examine insomnia and persecutory thoughts. It tells us that they are linked but not which causes the other. Clinical experience indicates that there is a vicious cycle: insomnia makes us anxious and fearful, and these worries make it harder to get to sleep.”

“The good news is that there are several, tried-and-tested ways to overcome insomnia. In particular, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has proven benefits. The intriguing implication of the research is that use of the sleep techniques may also make us feel safer and less mistrustful during the day. A good night’s sleep may simply make us view the world in a much more positive light.”
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