How Mental Illness Affects Healthy Sleep
Mental health and sleep are often intertwined. Even if you sleep every night, too little or poor quality sleep can compromise your ability to think clearly and be mentally productive. If you're already dealing with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns, then healthy sleep may be challenging to get on a regular basis. Check out the facts below regarding the relationship between mental illness and sleep to see if you could be getting a better night’s rest.
SLEEP AND MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS GO HAND IN HAND
Science is still working to develop a full understanding of mental health conditions, including what causes them. But the statistics seem fairly clear on a relationship between mental health concerns and sleep disturbances.
In a study of 7,954 people published by the National Institutes of Health, individuals were asked about both psychiatric conditions and sleep issues. Of the individuals who indicated they had insomnia, 40 percent said they had a psychiatric disorder as well. Of the individuals who reported hypersomnia (feeling excessively sleepy during daytime hours, even after sleeping plenty), more than 46 percent said they also had a psychiatric disorder.
In contrast, only around 16 percent of people who reported no sleep issues reported a psychiatric disorder.
The National Sleep Foundation notes that sleep and mood have been connected repeatedly in both research and anecdotal evidence from physicians and other health care professionals. In fact, individuals who suffer from insomnia experience depression at a rate 10 times that of those who don't, and they're diagnosed with clinical anxiety at a rate 17 times that of those who don't report sleep issues.
Another study showed that sleep issues were present in as many as 80 percent of people who suffered from schizophrenia.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SLEEP AND PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS IS COMPLEX
Scientists are still trying to determine how the relationship between sleep and mental health works. Mental health professionals and medical doctors often use sleep as one predictor of mental health issues, asking individuals about their sleep in the course of a normal exam. And while sleep issues can be a symptom of mental health issues, the opposite is also true. Here are just some of the relationships that are known between sleep and mental health:
- Unhealthy sleep cycles or problems sleeping can be a symptom of another issue. For example, if someone has depression, they may experience abnormal levels of fatigue and want to sleep more than normal. Alternatively, if someone suffers from anxiety, they may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. When sleep issues are a symptom, they may diminish as the overlying diagnosis is treated. Professionals may also work with individuals to address sleep concerns as a symptom.
- Sleep issues can also be an indication of a coexisting disorder when coupled with a mental health diagnoses. That means that both diagnoses exist separately from each other, though symptoms may interact, and they both need to be treated. In these cases, though, the sleep disorder can make the treatment of the mental health issue more complicated.
- Finally, medical researchers are coming to increasingly believe that sleep issues themselves may be a causal factor in the development of mental health disorders. Researchers at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford found that lack of sleep may be one factor in disorders that involve paranoia or hallucinatory experiences, for example.
A review of numerous studies published on the topic by Dr. Andrew D. Krystal concludes that the relationship between sleep and mental health is more complex than medical professionals have historically believed. Krystal notes that the relationship is often "bi-causal," which means the impact of sleep on mental health and the impact of mental health on sleep can become circular.
DEEP SLEEP HELPS WITH STRESS RECOVERY AND MENTAL HEALTH
While the puzzle that is sleep's impact on mental health is still unraveling at the expert level, there are some things doctors know for sure. They know that healthy sleep patterns are a benefit to overall health. They also know it's important for individuals to engage regularly in deep sleep, which means making it to the REM phase of the sleep cycle. It's during this part of sleep that your brain (and body) works to recover from the day, including any stressful situations or traumas. That's true whether those traumas are related to mental health issues or could lead to potential mental health issues.
The Sleep Health Foundation demonstrates this with the admittedly extreme anecdote of those who have been prisoners of war. A study followed former POWs for more than 30 years and concluded that the person's quality of sleep was the biggest predictor of how mentally resilient they would be in dealing with their past traumas and facing the future.
FOSTERING HEALTHY SLEEP
Whether you're dealing with mental health issues that are impacting your sleep or want to protect your sleep and your mental health, consider some of these tips for increasing sleep quality consistently.
- Create a sleep space that is comfortable for you. That means ensuring your space is clean, set at the right temperature and free of distracting light and noise.
- Make sure your mattress and bedding is appropriate for your needs and preferences. Having the right mattress size, for example, can make a huge difference in sleep quality. That's especially true if you share your bed with someone else.
- Work to develop a sleep routine. By going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time daily, you may be able to train your body to develop a better sleep cycle. This works best if you allot enough time for healthy sleep and avoid sleeping in even when you feel unable to face the world in the morning.
- Invest in an alarm clock that simulates sunrise or bright natural light in your room to help you wake up.
- Talk to your mental health or medical care provider about your sleep issues if addressing your sleep environment and habits isn't enough. There may be an underlying medical or mental reason you're not sleeping that can be addressed with therapy, medication or other treatment.
Don't assume that a lack of healthy sleep is par for the course if you're struggling with a mental health issue. Be open about your sleep with your providers so they can help you understand exactly what role sleep is playing and how you can address it.
Alaska Sleep Clinic is the only sleep clinic in Alaska with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist that specializes in sleep medicine, Dr. Angie Randazzo. We want to help you improve your sleep and your life.
Find our more about Dr. Angie Randazzo here.
About the Author: Joe Auer is the Editor for Mattress Clarity and has been writing about sleep professionally for over four years. As the bed in box industry began to boom, Joe started Mattress Clarity as a platform to help consumers navigate the mattress industry and since then, he has personally tested over 100 mattresses.