Insomnia and Thinking Too Much…What is This?

Reader’s Question

Hi! Ever since I was little, I’ve always had trouble sleeping. I tend to think a lot at night, but not always about bad things. Sometimes I think about something wonderful that just happened in my life, or sometimes I think about all the things I have to do the next day, but lots of times I think about things that have happened to me in the past, like embarrassing moments or things that people have said to me, be it good or bad. Lately, though, it’s gotten much worse than it ever has been, and sometimes I’ll just get 3 hours of sleep a night! My therapist told me that it’s just my personality to think so much, and that I don’t have depression or an anxiety disorder, but I was wondering if you can tell me of anything that I can do to help my little problem. My therapist says there’s not much I can do about it…

Please help me! I hate the way this insomnia affects my life! Thank you…

Psychologist’s Reply

Everything in our body has a “normal range”. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, normal temperature is 98.6, etc. While it’s difficult to measure, there is a “normal” thinking speed. If we use 55 mph to represent the normal thinking speed, and you feel your brain is running at 85 mph and won’t shut up — that’s as much of a biological problem as a thinking problem. Several psychiatric conditions can produce increased thinking speed — what we call “rumination”. From a clinical standpoint, the content of the thought racing tells us a lot about the biology involved. For example, the following psychiatric conditions (and a variety of others) can produce increased thought speed:

  • Depression — thought content is gloom, doom, death, the past, etc.
  • Anxiety — thought content is anxiety, apprehension, worry about future, what-if’s, etc.
  • Bipolar Mania — thought content is grandiose, happy, big ideas/deals, wealth, etc.
  • ADHD — thought content is random, skipping from topic to topic, with no specific mood
  • Medication Reactions — similar to ADHD, random content yet many thoughts

From your description, I would suspect an Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Type. Insomnia is not a symptom of a personality quirk…it’s almost always biological. I would recommend:

  1. take a few of the ADHD tests on this website and the internet, especially those for the Inattentive Type of ADHD,
  2. consult with your family physician or OB/GYN regarding the trial use of a sleep medication, and
  3. review your family history — any ADHD in the family?

This is something that can be treated easily. Insomnia can have serious consequences, even to our personality over the long-term. I would recommend consulting a physician ASAP. He/She may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for ADHD testing.

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