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The world-wide prevalence of insomnia disorder reaches up to 10% of the adult population. Women are more often afflicted than men, and insomnia disorder is a risk factor for somatic and mental illness, especially depression and anxiety disorders. Persistent hyperarousals at the cognitive, emotional, cortical and/or physiological levels are central to most theories regarding the pathophysiology of insomnia. Of the defining features of insomnia disorder, the discrepancy between minor objective polysomnographic alterations of sleep continuity and substantive subjective impairment in insomnia disorder remains enigmatic. Microstructural alterations, especially in rapid eye movement sleep ("rapid eye movement sleep instability"), might explain this mismatch between subjective and objective findings. As rapid eye movement sleep represents the most highly aroused brain state during sleep, it might be particularly prone to fragmentation in individuals with persistent hyperarousal. In consequence, mentation during rapid eye movement sleep may be toned more as conscious-like wake experience, reflecting pre-sleep concerns. It is suggested that this instability of rapid eye movement sleep is involved in the mismatch between subjective and objective measures of sleep in insomnia disorder. Furthermore, as rapid eye movement sleep has been linked in previous works to emotional processing, rapid eye movement sleep instability could play a central role in the close association between insomnia and depressive and anxiety disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


J Sleep Res

Publication Date



anxiety, consciousness, depression, dreaming, insomnia, micro‐arousals, rapid eye movement sleep