Hyperarousal is a 24-h state of elevated cognitive and physiological activation, and is a core feature of insomnia. The extent to which sleep quality is affected by stressful events-so-called sleep reactivity-is a vulnerability factor for developing insomnia. Given the increasing prevalence of insomnia with age, we aimed to investigate how hyperarousal and sleep reactivity were related to insomnia severity in different adult age groups. Data were derived from a large cohort study investigating the natural history of insomnia in a population-based sample (n = 1693). Baseline data of the Arousal Predisposition Scale (APS) and Ford Insomnia Response to Stress Test (FIRST) were examined across age and sleep/insomnia subgroups: 25-35 (n = 448), 35-45 (n = 528), and 45-55 year olds (n = 717); good sleepers (n = 931), individuals with insomnia symptoms (n = 450), and individuals with an insomnia syndrome (n = 312). Results from factorial analyses of variance (ANOVA) showed that APS scores decreased with increasing age, but increased with more severe sleep problems. FIRST scores were not significantly different across age groups, but showed the same strong increase as a function of sleep problem severity. The findings indicate that though arousal predisposition and sleep reactivity increase with more severe sleep problems, only arousal decreases with age. How arousing events affect an individual during daytime thus decreases with age, but how this arousal disrupts sleep is equivalent across different adult age groups. The main implication of these findings is that treatment of insomnia could be adapted for different age groups and take into consideration vulnerability factors such as hyperarousal and stress reactivity.
Keywords: age; arousal; insomnia; sleep reactivity.