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Keywords:

  • insomnia;
  • night-to-night variability;
  • predictability;
  • sleep;
  • sleep pattern

Summary

Sleep of chronic insomniacs is often characterized by extensive night-to-night variability. To date, no study has examined this variability with long series of daily sleep data. The present study examined night-to-night variability with a sample of 106 participants meeting DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for persistent primary insomnia. Participants completed daily sleep diaries for an average of 31 days (range: 18–56). Sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency and wake after sleep onset were derived from this measure. Despite evidence of extensive night variability, results showed that sleep patterns could be classified in three clusters. The first one was characterized by a high probability of having poor sleep, the second one by a low and decreasing probability, and the third one by a constant median probability of having a poor sleep, which is an unpredictable sleep pattern. In the first cluster, poor sleep was expected each night for patients with a predominance mixed insomnia including the three insomnia subtypes. In the second cluster, patients presented moderate insomnia, sleep-onset latency below the threshold level and a predominance of sleep-maintenance insomnia. In the third pattern, poor nights seemed unpredictable for patients with moderate to severe insomnia associated with the lowest proportion of sleep-maintenance insomnia. Overall, sleep was predictable for about two-thirds of individuals, whereas it was unpredictable for about one-third. These findings confirm the presence of extensive variability in the sleep of chronic insomniacs and that poor sleep may be predictable for some of them. Additional research is needed to characterize those sleep patterns in terms of clinical features and temporal course.