Should school times be adjusted to accommodate the circadian rhythms of adolescents?

The psychological and biological processes of an individual’s sleep/wake cycle are referred to as a person’s circadian rhythms (Gleitman, Gross & Reisberg, 2010).  As one approaches adolescence, melatonin (hormone secreted that induces sleepiness) production occurs later in the evening, making it harder for teenagers to get the amount of sleep needed to function properly the next day.   The NHS recommends that the average adolescent should aim to get nine hours sleep a night.  However, extracurricular activities, private study and social lives interfere, meaning that often, nine hours sleep a night is not achieved.  Due to this lack of synchronicity between the early school start and adolescents’ natural sleeping pattern, I’ll be looking at whether school start times should be altered to accommodate the circadian rhythms of teenagers..

When I was at school classes started at 8:30am.  To me this seemed horrendous and it would take me a lesson to properly wake up and be able to concentrate.  Research has shown that early school starts can lead to significant levels of sleep deprivation in students (Epstein, Chillag, & Lavie, 1998).  Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to academic and social achievement as it can lead to increases in behavioural problems and deficits in attention span and cognitive development (Astill, Ijzendoorn, Van der Heijden, Van Someren, 2012).  Later starting times have been found to positively affect student achievement significantly, so much so that it would roughly be equivalent to raising teacher quality by one standard deviation (Carrell, Maghakian & West, 2011).

However, there has been some opposition to the movement of starting school later, with some people arguing that it would lead to a substantial increase in expenses, due to having to alter transportation times (link). However, schools in Minneapolis and Edina did not find that altering transportation led to more costs when they altered their schools starting time (Wahlstrom, 2002).

In the past, schools in the UK have been subject to Changing of School Lesson Times Regulations, which state that any changed to the school day had to be regulated and approved by the Department for Education.  However, this was revoked in September of 2011, meaning that schools could change lunch times, start and finish times of the school day and that the time taken from proposal to implementation would be much faster than it has previously been.

Looking at the evidence above, we can see that the costs of postponing the start time of schools are outweighed by the benefits.  We’ve seen that it benefits attendance, punctuality and social and academic achievement.  Thus, it seems silly that changing the start time of school has not yet been implemented across the board.


Gleitman, H; Gross, J; Reisberg, D. (2010). Psychology.  Consciousness. pp. 233-234.

Attitudes to food and eating behaviour

One explanation of the origins of attitudes to food and eating behaviour is that it is socially learnt through parental modelling.  Brown and Ogden (2002) conducted a study into the eating habits of daughters and their mothers.  A strong positive correlation was found between the relationship between participants and their eating habits.  Therefore suggesting that our eating behaviours are learnt by our primary caregivers because they have ultimate control over the food which comes and goes from the house, therefore an acquired taste may be developed for the foods most common to us whilst growing up in childhood.

An issue with studying this issue, is that it heavily relies on self-report techniques which are not supported by any objective measurement.  As society often places huge emphasis on the idea that parents should encourage healthiness in their children, we need to take caution when interpreting the results as some participants may have altered the truth of their eating habits to avoid being viewed as a bad parent.

Another influence of people’s eating behaviours is the media (Thompson & Heinburg, 1999).  They suggested that the images that the media portrays within magazines, television and so on, can be influencing the perceptions of everyday, ‘average’ people.  This is turn has an effect on their eating patterns. 

However, social influences are not the only explanation for people’s eating habits.  Culture can also have an influence too.  In their study on eating disorders amongst cultures around the world, Mumford et al. (1991) found that bulimia was more apparent in Asian schoolgirls in Bradford when compared to their white counterparts.  Striegal-Moore et al. (2001) found that black girls had a greater strive for thinness than their white peers.  Further research studied the eating patterns of 14, 000 women who had emigrated to Australia.  It was found that the greater amount of time spent in Australia, the more similar their attitudes became to those of the native, female Australians (Kenardy, Brown, & Vogt, 2001).  Thus, suggesting that the culture in which one is exposed to can be highly influential on ones eating habits.

Potential issues however are that many of the studies looking into eating have a sample made up of a majority of females.  More studies on males’ eating habits are needed for generalisability purposes.


Brown, R., Ogden, J. (2002). Children’s eating attitudes and behaviours: a study of the modelling and control theories of parental influence. Health Education Research, 19(3), 261-271. Doi: 10.1093/her/cyg040.

Kenardy, J., Brown, W. J., Vogt, E. (2001) Dieting and health in young Australian women. European Eating Disorders Review, 9(4), 242-254(13).

Mumford, D. B., Whitehouse, A. M., Platts, M. (1991). Sociocultural correlates of eating disorders among Asian schoolgirls in Bradford. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 222-228. Doi: 10.1192/bjp.15.2.222.

Striegel-Moore, R. H., McMahon, R. P., Biro, F. M., Schreiber, G., Crawford, P. B., Voorhees, C. (2001). Exploring the relationship between timing of menarche and eating disorder symptoms in black and white adolescent girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders. DOI: 10.1002/eat.1103.

Thompson, J. K., Heinburg, L. J. (1999). The Media’s Influence on Body Image Disturbance and Eating Disorders: We’ve Reviled Them, Now Can We Rehabilitate Them? Journal of Social Sciences, 55(2), 339-353.

The Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon, and is the idea that people will refrain from helping strangers in distress because if they are among a lot of people and no one else is helping, they feel that they shouldn’t either.  Click here for a video displaying this is action.

Although most of us have been guilty of ignoring strangers in need, there are a few explanations for us doing this.  One being pluralistic ignorance, when members of a group don’t realise the others share their concerns, thus leading them to misinterpret their actions and not intervene (Gleitman, Gross, & Reisberg, 2011).  This was unfortunately the case which took place in 1964, when a young woman, Kitty Genovese was murdered.  When the police asked witnesses why they didn’t help, they said that they saw other witnesses who didn’t intervene, which led them to think that because others weren’t reacting the emergency wasn’t as great as they thought.

Another influence into whether a person passes a person in need by is the amount of those surrounding them.  Much research into the bystander effect has shown that the larger the group that is witnessing an emergency, the smaller the chance they will take any action to help the suffering individual.  It has been said that this is because having more people in a group diffuses the responsibility to help someone (Darley & Latané, 1968).

The cost of helping someone is also seen as a factor in whether a person intervenes to help someone.  It’s been reported that those who intervene in cases of assault are on the whole male, taller and stronger, thus supporting the idea that those who would be able to prevent the assault as they are physically capable to intervene, and the costs are lower for them to do so (Eagly & Crowley, 1986).  Darley & Batson, (1973)  conducted a study testing this theory.  Their participants were theology students, and they were given two talks to attend – but were told to hurry from one to the other as fast as the could as they were supposed to walk one at a time.  On the route, a confederate was lying in a doorway groaning.  It was found that only 10% stopped to help the man, and the other 90% carried on rushing to the lecture.  In this case, stopping to help meant that the cost to the student would be high (late to class) and as the vast majority of participants rushed past the groaning man, it can be said that the results from this study support the idea that high cost will result in lowered intervention.


Coolpsychologist (2009). The Bystander Effect. Youtube.  Retrieved from:

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jehrico”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 202-214.

Darley, J., Latané, B. (1968). Bystander Intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 202-214.

Eagley, A. H., Crowley, M. (1986). Gender and helping behaviour: A meta-analytic review of research of the social psychological literature. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 283-308.

Glietman, H., Gross, J., Reisberg, D. (2011). Psychology. Social Psychology: Helping and Alturism. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 13, 532-533.


According to Le Bon (1895), deindividuation is when a person’s sense of individuality is lost when amongst a crowd, or in an anonymous setting.  This psychological state can be triggered by something as simple as being in a large group, to wearing a uniform etc.  Looking at history, we can see a multitude of evidence of deindividuation taking place.  The Nazi’s in WW2, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1960s, and more recently the nationwide riots in 2011 to name but a few.  It is an important issue which we need to address to help understand criminal behaviour, and to develop ways in which to prevent it.

Research by Zimbardo (1970) looked into the effect uniform had on a participants’ behaviour.  One group was administered a bulky uniform which had a hood to hide their faces, a second group acted as a control group, and wore what they went into the study with.  The experiementer asked the participants to deliver an electric shock to a ‘learner’ when they got something wrong.  It was found that the deindividuated group shocked the ‘learner’ two times as much as the control group, thus supporting the claim that when a persons’ identity is concealed, this makes it easier for a person to act in a deviant way.

Interestingly, a similar study was carried out by Johnson and Downing (1979).  In one condition they put participants in KKK costumes and the second group in nurses costumes.  It was found that the group who were dressed as members of the KKK administered more shocks than the participants in the nurse uniforms.  Thus suggesting to us that people respond to normative cues associated with the social context they find themselves in, thus making it easier to deviate from our morals and implulses.

However, Diener et al (1977)  found that gender differences do occur when looking at deindividuation, for example, a greater disinhibition of aggression has been found in males.  Also, females are said to be more emphatic and may have shocked the learner less than males.  Therefore, we should be sensitive when applying the results found in research to members of the opposite sex.

Moreover, although the majority of research displays a correlation of deindividuation with antisocial behaviour, there is also another, more positive, side to deindividuation.  Spivey and Prentice-Dunn (1990) found that deindividuation can lead to pro-social behaviour.  When environmental cues were present (such as a positive role model), deindividuated subjects behaved more alturistically and performed more prosocial acts than antisocial acts compared to others.  Therefore, we should not assume that deindivduation is a compeltely negative process.


Diener, E. (1979).  Deindividuation: The absense of self-awareness and self-regulation in group members.  In P. Paulus (Ed.), The Psychology of group influence. (pp.209-242).  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Johnson, R. D., & Downing, L. L. (1979). Deindividuation and valence of cues: Effects on prosocial and antisocial behaviour. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 37(9), 1532-1538.

Le Bon, G. (1895). The Crowd. New York: Viking Press, 1960.

Spivey, C. B., & Prentice-Dunn, S. (1990). Assessing the directionality of deindividuated behavior: effects of deindividuation, modeling and private self-consciousness on aggressive and prosocial responses. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 11(4), 387-403.

Zimbardo, P. G. (1970) The human choice: Individuation, reason and order verses deindividuation, impulse and chaos.  In W. J. Arnold & E. Levine (Eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation:Vol 18.Lincoln: University of Nerbraska Press.

Biological explanations for OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterised by obsessions (persistant and recurrent thoughts or images which enter the mind and can’t be removed) and compulsions (the urge to carry out a thought or action).  According to OCD-UK, OCD affects around 1.2% of the British population (around 12 to every 1000).  But is this disorder one of a biological or behavioural nature?

Mowrer (1960) claimed that an anxiety disorder such as OCD is acquired through classical and operant conditioning.  This is the idea that the fear associated with a certain stimuli is maintained over time by avoidance.  Avoiding the stimuli then leads to positive outcomes, thus, the avoidance action becomes reinforced.  Behavioural explanations for OCD are supported by research conducted by Tracy et al (1999).  Their research contained two groups; those with OCD-like tendancies, and a control group of college students.  Puffs of air were blown into the participants’ eye and those with OCD-like tendancies developed the eyeblink response mosre quickly than the control group.  Therefore suggesting that people with OCD may have a predisposition to learning behaviours through conditioning more easily.  However, there are some methodological issues with this particular piece of research as non-clinical participants were used, therefore making it difficult for us to generalise the results to genuine OCD sufferers.

However, others have argued that OCD has biological roots.  Hoaken & Schnurr (1980) discovered a strong concordance rate of 50-60% between Monozygotic twins (identical) and anxiety disorders, such as OCD.   Carey and Gottesman (1981) also looked into family history and found that there was a prevalence of up to 10% of OCD in first degree relatives.  Further research showed an even larger prevalence of 30% amongst first degree relatives (Lenane, 1990).  These studies display to us that our biology plays an important role in disorders such as OCD.

Supporting the idea that OCD has a biologicsal nature, Murphy et al (2003) gathered DNA of 110 participants, who were all subdivided into two groups; 30 participants suffered from OCD, and the other 70 were put into a control group as they were considered ‘healthy’.  Looking at the variations of human serotonin transporter gene, they found that 6 out of 7 people in two seperate families who had one genetic mutation had OCD, whilst the four participants with the most severe cases of OCD were found to have had two genetic mutations in the same gene.

Overall, looking at the evidence above, anxiety disorders such as OCD seem to be one of a biological nature.  However, to only look at this complex disorder form one point of view would be reductionist, and we should consider that other factors such as upbringing may also play a crucial role in how we develop as a person.


Carey G, Gottesman II (1981) Twin and family studies of anxiety, phobic, and obsessive disorders. Anxiety: new research and changing concepts. Raven Press, New York, pp 117–136.

Hoaken, P. C., & Schnurr, R. (1980). Genetic factors in Obsessive-Compulsive neurosis? A Rare case of discordant monozygotic twins. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 25, 167-172.

Lenane, M. C., Swedo, S. S., Leonard, H., Pauls, D. L., Sceery, W., Rapoport, J. L. (1990) Psychiatric Disorders in First Degree Relatives of Children and Adolescents with Obsessive Comulsive Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Vol 29, 23, 407-412. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199005000-00012

Mowrer, H. O. (1960) Learning Theory and Behaviour. John Wiley & Sons, inc, Hoboken, NJ, US. xii 555 pp doi: 10.1037/10802-000

Murphy, D. L., Ozaki, N., Goldman, D., Kaye, W. H., Plotnicov., Greenberg, B. D., Lappalainen, J., Rudnick, G. (2003) Serotonin transporter missense mutation associated with a complex neuropsychiatric phenotype. Molecular Psychiatry. doi: 10.1038/

Tracy, J.A., Ghose, S.S., McFall, R.M., Steinmetz, J.E. (1999) Classical Conditional in a Nonclinical Obsessive-Compulsive Population. Psychological Science, Vol. 10 no. 1 9-13. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00098

Dieting: Purely cognitive.

Many feel that dieting and cutting back is the way to achieve their desired body shape.  However, Herman and Mack (1975) suggested that dieting can actually increase the possibility of overeating.  This is due to the fact that it takes a dieter longer to reach satiation (fullness) than a non-dieter.  This research was supported through the work of Wegner (1994).  He displayed a picture of a polar bear to a control group and an experiemtnal group.  The participants in the experimental condition were not allowed to think about the polar bear, and the control group were allowed to think about the polar bear as much as they wished.  He found that those in the experimental condition thought about the polar bear far more than those in the control group.  He named this phenomenom the ‘ironic process of mental control’.  Further research provided a link between food and restraining thoughts and the impact this had on overeating.  Soetens et al (2006) sorted participants into two groups; restrained eaters and non resrained eaters.  They then subdivided those within the restrained categories into a high or low disinhibition groups.  Those low in disinhibition (participants who tried to eat less but often overate) showed more thought supression than the other groups, and also more of a rebound effect.  Thus, displaying to us that restrained eaters tend to overeat when supressing their thoughts about food.

Redden (2008) theorised that successful dieting was down to the attention that is paid to food.  Two groups of participants were given a selection of jelly beans.  The jelly beans distributed to group 1 were simply called ‘jelly bean 1’.  However, in group 2, more adjectives were used in describing the jelly beans before them.  It was found that those participants in group 2 then consumed more jelly beans than those in group 1 who were given ‘plain’ sweets.  Therefore, displaying to us that attention to detail in the food we eat is an essential key to dieting.

However, it has been argued that dieitng failures are not a cognitive issue, but in fact a genetic one. The enzyme Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) is produced by fat cells to help store calories as fat.  Kern (1990) conducted a study on nine people who lost an average of 90 pounds.  Their LPL levels were tested before dieting and again after three months.  They found that the levels of LPL had risen after weight loss, thus indicating that the body was trying to regain the weight.  The researchers believed that weight loss activated this gene which could indicate as to why those who lose wight put it back on more quickly.


Herman, C. P., Mack, D. (1975) Restrained and unrestrained eating. Journal of personality. Vol. 43, 4, 647-660. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1975.tb00727.x

Kern, P.A. (1990) Potential Role of TNFα and Lipoprotein Lipase as Candidate Genes for Obesity. The Journal of Nutrition. Vol, 127, 9.

Redden, J. P. (2008) Reducing Satiation: The Role of Categorization Level. The University of Chicago Press. doi: 10.1086/521898

Soetens, B., Breat, C., Dejonckeere, P., Roets, A. (2006) When Suppression Backfires: The Ironic Effects of Suppressing Eating-Related Thoughts. Journal of Health Psychology. Vol, 11. doi: 10.1177/1359105306066615

Wegner, D.M . (1994) Ironic Process of Mental Control. Psychological Review, vol 101, 34-52. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.101.1.34


Theories have been developed for thousands of years – some bizarre, others slightly more realistic.  The controversial topic of God however, has been left alone by many in the scientific community.  However, recent research from Beauregard and Paquette (2006) have set a milestone in the history of science in relation to religion, by testing whether there is a ‘God spot’ in our brains.

The study used fMRI (functional Magnetic Imaging) to try and identify neural correlates associated with spiritual experiences.  They found that a number of areas in the brain were activated whilst the nuns were experiencing a state of union with God.  This was defined as “a sense of timelessness and spacelessness, feelings of positive effect, peace, joy and unconditional love”.  The research suggested that there was not a single part of the brain which was responsible for the mystical experience, but rather a culmination of  mechanisms and emotions.  The nuns were also asked to rate the experience from their point of view, thus leading us to question the methodolgy of the study, as the results are open to subjectivity.  With something as personal as faith and often, people can often experience extreme happiness after a union with God, and therefore the results may possibly be skewed.  To further this research, a sample of people form different denominations and backgrounds could be tested to see if there are any links.

Beauregard and Paquette (2006) titled their paper “Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite Nuns”.  In a way this is appropriate as they were testing this and found that there were a number of correlates activated in a mystical experience, however, it is also problematic as it leads us to assume that there is difinitive proof that God exists.  Although we know that nothing can be proven, others may interpret it as this.  For example, The Telegraph (2006) wrote an article on this research and titled it as “Nuns prove God is not a figment of the mind”.  This was wrong for them to use the wording like this as because of their large (sometimes uneducated) readership, people may take these findings too far.  Also, the study didn’t find that God existed, but only found the correlates which are activated.


Beauregard, M., Paquette, V. (2006) Neural Correlates of a Mystical Experience in Carmelite Nuns.  Neuroscience letters, 405, 186-190.

Highfield, R. (2006) Nuns Prove God is not a figment of the mind. The Telegraph.


What is it that makes us ‘evil’?  Is it a response elicited by anger, or something more complicated than that?  According to Zimbardo (2007), evil can be defined through intentionally harming the innocent or using authority to demand others to carry out evil on their behalf.   Throughout history, this kind of evil has been demonstrated by political figures such as Hitler, Stalin and many more.  Today, I want to focus on the works in groups such as cults and sects, and what has a greater influence; dispositional or situational factors?

Zimbardo (2007) believed it to be the latter.  Although a predisposition to behaviour obviously influences a person’s actions, he argued that situational factors acted as a catalyst.  He called this The Lucifer Effect.  Looking at the findings from the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, 1970), there appears to be strong evidence supporting this claim.  He found that when regular people were assigned roles of authority (in this case police guards) and subordination (the prisoners), ‘evil’ was evidential in the actions carried out by the prison guards.  Thus, showing us that if a person is placed in a situation, they could be capable of conducting acts which they would otherwise find unthinkable in a different circumstance.  A documentary on this particular experiment can be viewed here:

Therefore can we suggest that cults, and their cult leaders especially, are evil?  First, let’s define what we mean by the word ‘cult’.  Langone (1993) stated that cults either significantly (a) exhibits extreme devotion to an entity, (b)  uses a “thought-reform programme to persuade, control and socialise members” (c) “induces psychological dependence among members ” (d) “exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals” (e) cause psychological harm to its members.  Kendall (2006) argued that although some groups may be positive in a category, more extreme cults, nicknamed ‘Doomsday cults’ (Singer, 2003), are often highly ostracised due to their abuse of other categories.  The Jonestown Massacre of 1978 showed the extent to which cults can be destructive.  Pastor Jim Jones manipulated his congregation of the “People’s Temple” which ultimately led them to believe that he was in control and if they stepped out of line, or tried to escape, they were punished in an “extended care unit”, where poisonous drugs would be administered to them.   To try and put an end to this, Congressman Leo Ryan tried to intervene and save members of the People’s Temple that wanted out, however, when they got to the airstrip to go back to the USA, they were attacked.  Later that day, Jim Jones convinced everyone to commit mass-suicide by drinking punch laced with cyanide.  Overall, 918 people died.  The evil demonstrated here shows us a violation of all 5 categories described above, and we can infer that situational factors can be highly influential in cults.

However, when looking at cults we need to take into consideration that cult leaders are usually delusional and often believe that the ends will justify the means.


Altered Dimensions. The Jonestown Massacre.

Kendall,  (2006) Spirituality and Psychiatry. Pathological Spirituality. 225

Langone, M. D. (1993) Recovery from Cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. xix, 410.

Singer, M. T. (2003) Cults in our Midst: The continuing fight against their hidden menace. San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass. xxviii, 397 pp.

Stanford Prison Experiment (Documentary) Youtube (2011)

Zimbardo, P. G. (1970) The human choice: Individuation, reason and order versus deindividuation, impulse and chaos. In W. J. Arnold & D. Levine (EDs.), Nebraska Synposium on Motivation (pp. 237-308). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007) The Lucifer Effct: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House.

Approaching Aggression

There has been an abundance of research carried out into aggression, how it’s caused and why it’s there.  But what I want to focus on today is whether aggression is mainly down to a person’s genetics or whether it is actually developed through the behaviourist approach of operant and classical conditioning.

Neural mechanisms have been found to have a huge influence on aggression.  Research from Gregg & Seigal et al (2001) supports this as they found that the three principle regions of the amygdala and two regions of the hypothalamus affect defensive rage and predation.   Hormones also play a large part in aggression.  Coccaro et al (1997) studied a group of people who had personality disorders and found that those with the lowest serotonin activity were more likely to have relatives with similar disorders to them.  Thus, looking at these pieces of evidence, we can see that there’s significant evidence for the case that aggression is a biological mechanism.

However, Bandura (2001) suggests that we observe actions and their consequences and then we develop a set of outcome expectations when we come to govern our own actions.  He conducted a study on young children in 1961 and got them to watch a videotape of an adult hitting a bobo doll, the child was then put into a room with a bobo doll, and then child displayed acts of violence against the doll.  Thus, suggesting to us that aggression can be learnt.

Overall, when looking at a complex behaviour such as aggression, we shouldn’t make generalisations about what approach is right or wrong.  Instead, we should look at both approaches and see how they both link together.  The biological approach to aggression could serve as a diathesis-stress model, the idea that there is a predisposition to a behaviour, and the way in which we are raised and the morals that instilled in us could lead to the way we respond in aggressive situations.


Bandura, A. (1961). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The journal of Abnormal and social Psychology, Vol 66, 3-11. doi: 10.1037/hoo48687

Bandura, A. (2001). Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26

Coccoro, E. F., and Kavoussi, R. J. (1997) Fluoxetine and impulsive aggressive behaviour in personality-disordered subjects. Archives of General Psychiatry, 54, 318-324.

Gregg, T. R., and Siegal, A.  Brain structures and neurotransmitters regulating aggression in cats: Implications for human aggression. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 2001, 25, 91-240

Insomnia – a figment of the imagination?

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder in which an individual’s usual sleeping habits are disrupted.  This may be due to an underlying issue in the short term (secondary insomnia), or on its own for a longer period of time (primary insomnia).  Lack of sleep can be very disruptive, and for some long term sufferers it can play havoc with their social and professional lives.  According to Ancoli-Israel and Roth (1999), 25% of the population are estimated to experience insomnia temporarily in their lifetime, and 9% on a chronic basis.  But is this condition a result of faulty thinking?

Insomnia is usually diagnosed through self-report techniques, thus, one could assume that the disorder is cognitive. Although this can be very useful (gauging a trigger, assessing the consistency of their sleeping patterns), self-reports are difficult to generalise.  For example, someone may find 4 hours sleep a night necessary enough and they feel no ill effects the next day, whereas another person might sleep for 8 hours and be unable to function normally the next day.

Harvey (2002) argued that because a person is deprived of sleep, they then begin to become anxious about losing sleep and struggle to function the next day, so much so that this in turn leads to a contributing factor to their insomnia.  In response to this, cognitive behavioural therapy has been assigned to patients to try and alleviate the anxiety they feel when trying to sleep and it has shown to be greatly effective.  So, by changing a persons thinking and their behaviours, insomnia can be helped.

Differences between insomniacs and individuals without insomnia were assessed by Rosa and Bonnet (2000).  They split a sample of participants into two groups; one was of those who reported incidences of insomnia and one of those who hadn’t.  They didn’t find any differences in the two groups’ sleeping patterns, however, they did find differences between behaviour.  Looking at this study, there’s a clear lean toward the idea that insomnia is in fact a cognitive issue.



Ancoli-Israel, S., and Roth, T. Characteristics of insomnia in the United States: Results of the 1991 National sleep Foundation survey. Sleep, 1999, 22, s347-s353.

Rosa, R. R., and Bonnet, M. H. Reported chronic insomnia is independent of poor sleep as measured by electroencephalography.  Psychosomniac Medicine, 2000, 62, 474-482.

Harvey, A.G., and Tang, N. K.Y.   A Cognitive Model of Insomnia, 2002. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071