The natural history of insomnia: predisposing, precipitating, coping, and perpetuating factors over the early developmental course of insomnia

Sleep. 2021 Sep 13;44(9):zsab095. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsab095.


While there is an extensive literature on predisposing, precipitating, coping, and perpetuating factors in those with chronic insomnia, very little work has been undertaken to evaluate these factors over the early developmental course of insomnia. The present aim was to determine whether several hypothesized factors in each domain (predisposing, precipitating, coping, and perpetuating), assessed during an episode of acute insomnia (AI), are related to its persistence or remission to normal sleep. Participants comprised n = 140 people with AI and n = 737 normal sleepers (NS) recruited from the general public. Participants completed measures assessing predisposing characteristics (personality traits, arousal predisposition, and insomnia vulnerability), precipitating events and outcomes (life events, perceived stress, anxiety, and depression), coping styles (thought control strategies and coping styles), and perpetuating factors (sleep preoccupation, pre-sleep arousal, dysfunctional beliefs, and fatigue). Additionally, insomnia status (from AI at baseline to its persistence or natural remission [NR]) was assessed 1 month later (n = 129). Baseline differences between NS and individuals with AI were observed in each domain with increasing age, lower openness to experience and conscientiousness, higher insomnia severity, levels of anxiety, and affective sleep preoccupation significantly predicting AI status. Further, a previous episode of insomnia, higher depression scores, and affective sleep preoccupation scores significantly predicted its persistence, as opposed to its NR. Results are discussed with reference to the conceptualization of insomnia and how the findings may influence the design of preventative interventions to circumvent the transition from acute to chronic insomnia.

Keywords: Spielman; acute insomnia; depression; prevention; sleep preoccupation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Anxiety
  • Arousal
  • Humans
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders*