It has been claimed that high IQ or intelligence is linked to insomnia, although reliable citations are often not provided to prove these claims. Today we take a closer look.
Higher IQ and Insomnia
Several websites and “fact” pages assert that possessing a high intelligence or IQ is related to insomnia. These statements are often presented as if they were fact, often without citations to let readers know where the data came from or if the information is reliably accurate.
A thorough search of the web (including Google Scholar) did not reveal much information on this topic, however I did make several interesting finds.
In 2009, a study conducted by the London School of Economics entitled Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The study found that people with higher IQs tended to be night owls. Staying up late doesn’t automatically make you a genius, but the study did find a mathematical probability that people with higher IQs are generally more likely to be nights owls compared with the rest of the population. Why this is the case is not made clear. It is perhaps due to a hyperactive mind, or because more intelligent people may tend to seek out novel stimuli.
Another interesting find was a four-minute video made by Dr. Barry Krakow, a member of the National Sleep Foundation. Dr. Krakow is a director of two sleep facilities, performs scientific research on sleep, and is the author of Sound Sleep, Sound Mind: 7 Keys to Sleeping Through the Night. Although not based on actual scientific research, he has personally observed what he feels is a link between intellectual intelligence and insomnia.
Watch Dr. Krakow’s 4 minute video below:
Known Causes of Insomnia
The Mayo Clinic maintains a webpage devoted to insomnia which lists possible causes and risk factors. Neither page mentions higher intelligence or IQ as a known cause or risk factor for insomnia, however anxiety and mental health issues such as bipolar disorder are listed as possible causes and risk factors. Could intelligence be indirectly linked to insomnia via anxiety or mental illness?
Intelligence as a Possible Mediator Between Anxiety and Insomnia
Several scientific studies have found a link between intelligence and anxiety. A 2012 study that appeared in the journal Frontiers of Evolutionary Neuroscience, found that people who had both a high IQ and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) suffered from an excessive amount of worrying. Results of the study were covered by several mainstream media outlets, including ABC News. An article reporting the study results in The Telegraph stated that, “Previous studies have indicated excessive worry tends to exist both in people with higher and lower intelligence, and less so in people of moderate intelligence.”
The study suggests that anxiety may have co-evolved with intelligence to help the human race avoid danger. Lead author of the study, professor Jeremy Coplan, explained the link:
“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be… In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”
Given these findings, it could indicate that intelligence is a possible mediator between certain cases of anxiety and insomnia.
Mental Illness as a Mediator
It is also possible that intelligence is a partial mediator between certain forms of mental illness and insomnia. Although the link between genius and madness is generally thought to be a myth, there has been some recent scientific evidence correlating high intelligence with creativity, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
The link may possibly come from a gene associated with both high intelligence and mental illness that has been labelled DARPP-32. The Harvard Gazette also has an interesting article on the correlations between creativity, mental illness, and intelligence.
Currently, there does not seem to be any scientific studies directly linking higher intelligence or IQ to insomnia, however some experts such as Dr. Barry Krakow do anticipate a possible correlation. Although purely speculation, it is possible that intelligence is a possible mediator between mental illness, anxiety, and insomnia. There are indications that intelligence can sometimes be linked to mental illness and anxiety, and these are known causes of insomnia. More scientific studies will have to be carried out in order to provide definite answers.
Updated July 11, 2016
Originally published August 2014