The Natural History of Insomnia: High Sleep Reactivity Interacts with Greater Life Stress to Predict the Onset of Acute Insomnia

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STUDY OBJECTIVES: Prior research suggests that some individuals have a predisposition to experience insomnia following acute stressors (i.e., sleep reactivity). The present study was a proof of concept and specifically aimed to provide additional empirical evidence that the link between stressful life events and the onset of acute insomnia is moderated by sleep reactivity.

METHODS: 1,225 adults with a history of good sleep (Mage = 53.2 years, 68% female, 83% white) were recruited nationwide for an online study on sleep health. Participants completed surveys to assess sleep reactivity (baseline), sleep patterns (daily sleep diary), and stressful life events (weekly survey). All daily and weekly measures were completed for a one-year period. Sleep diary data were used to identify sleep initiation/maintenance difficulties, including whether they met criteria for acute insomnia at any point during the one-year interval.

RESULTS: Participants with high sleep reactivity compared to low sleep reactivity were at 76% increased odds of developing acute insomnia during the one-year interval. In general, greater weekly stressful life events were associated with greater insomnia during the subsequent week. Those participants with high sleep reactivity demonstrated a stronger relationship between weekly stressful life events and insomnia, such that they reported the greatest levels of insomnia following weeks where they experienced a greater number of stressful life events.

CONCLUSIONS: These results further support the sleep reactivity model of insomnia, and specifically, provide evidence that sleep reactivity predicts the incidence of acute insomnia in a sample of participants with no history of insomnia.

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ePub ahead of print