Is perfectionism related to insomnia? The answer is yes, but not in the way you might expect. A lot of people think that perfectionism may be a result of trying to compensate for lack of sleep. They might be very ‘particular’ in order to prevent any negative consequences by controlling and organising life. So in their mind, the sleep problem would lead to perfectionism. However, the evidence strongly supports the relationship between perfectionistic tendencies and poor sleep in sleep studies – even in those who don’t have insomnia. And strong perfectionism scores are strongly associated with developing chronic insomnia. So the evidence seems to support perfectionism as a predisposing factor for developing sleeping trouble.

how can perfectionism feed insomnia?

Perfectionism has some perks. But fear of making errors, fear of making wrong decisions, and of being prone to ‘counterfactual thinking’ (thinking that goes against the facts) are the traits associated with chronic insomnia. Unhelpful thinking related to sleep, and the consequences of poor sleep are a driving factor for developing and maintaining insomnia. People who have these unhelpful, untrue beliefs tend to develop sleep anxiety. This leads them to adopt coping strategies which are actually very harmful to sleep. These things include napping, sleeping in, making plans around sleep, and ‘trying to sleep’ behaviours both at night and during the daytime. It’s likely that ‘trying to sleep’ actually brought you to this article in one way or another. A perfectionist’s fear of making mistakes, fuelled by unhelpful sleep-related thinking, can create a strong emotional investment in ‘making sleep happen’ or controlling sleep in order to relieve the sleep-related anxiety they feel. Unfortunately, because we cannot control sleep, these attempts are often counterproductive and make the situation worse. A perfectionist’s preference to be organised is associated with lower insomnia scores – but only when there are not unhelpful sleep-related beliefs. So a person can’t ‘plan their way’ out of insomnia by trying to use organisational strategies to mitigate the effects of sleep loss. Importantly, addressing the unhelpful thinking about the effects of sleep loss will help reduce sleep anxiety may allow the benefits of the organised perfectionist to shine brighter.

What can you do about unhelpful sleep related thoughts?

So what are the most common unhelpful sleep-related thoughts? The most unhelpful ones are the ones that affect you personally, and are usually persistent and prefaced with ‘always’ or ‘never’ kinds of words or feelings. They are the thoughts that tend to percolate when you are tossing and turning at night and unable to sleep and thinking about the next day. I’ll be writing more about this soon. If you struggle with your sleep related thinking – drop me a message to see if I can help.