Sleep Disorders Linked with Mental Illness
The Institute doesn’t know what sleep problems cause mental illnesses or mental illnesses cause sleep problems. Al they know is that there’s a link. It may be that either one can cause the other; too little sleep affects both our thinking and feelings, and mental illnesses may also cause us to have sleep problems, as when we have trouble sleeping when we are upset about a problem that we are having at work or in our relationships.
Flo Leighton, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in New York City, interviewed by the Huffington Post, cites post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder as two examples of psychiatric illnesses that have side effects that disrupt normal sleep patterns. On the other hand, she says some mental health disorders, like anxiety, can be triggered by insomnia. Sleeplessness can disrupt the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), two important sleep regulators of sleep. When these neurotransmitters are sidetracked, anxiety can rise.
“Because of these [chemical] disruptions, it makes sense that people who have a bad night’s sleep report things like having a harder time concentrating, not feeling ‘sharp,’ and generally being more easily stressed or irritable,” Leighton says.
About 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia, the most common sleep disorder. At the same time, about 40 million Americans report some form of anxiety disorder, and about 36 million report having dysthymia, a neurotic kind of depression. These are only those cases that are reported. Many cases are never reported. Many people are not aware they suffer from anxiety or dysthymia, as it has become normal to them other the years, and they never seek help for it.
We often hear the phrase, “it runs in families,” and that phrase is commonly viewed as proof that something is hereditary. However, in the case of sleep problems and mental disorders, and in many other cases, we can’t be sure about the cause and effect. We know there is a link between sleep problems and mental disorder, but we don’t know what the cause is. This is true of many other such cases. For example, it is well known that there’s a statistical link showing that mothers who smoke are likely to give birth to hyperactive babies. But we don’t know if the babies are hyperactive because the mother smoked, or because the mother was anxious. Hence this is a confounding variable.
Although we don’t know exactly what is the cause of the link between sleep deprivation and mental illness, some experts have offered standard solutions to getting to sleep and staying asleep. Of course these solutions tend to work better for those whose mental illnesses are less severe. If people have a severe disorder such as schizophrenia, they will need professional help in order to rectify the situation.
The usual methods for getting sleep without the use of medication include:
1. Meditation. Medication of any kind helps focus the body away from the stresses and strains of daily living while focusing it toward a kind of mindlessness that fosters sleep.
2. Warm baths. Take a warm bath before you go to bed and lie in the warm water for a while. This will relax both your mind and body and prepare them for sleep.
3. Reading. Reading focuses your attention away from daily stressors until your eyes become tired and you become drowsy. It is the same principle that helps children go to sleep when parents read them a story before bed.
4. Exercise. Farmers who work in the field all day report less trouble sleeping. If you get into the habit of doing yoga or some other form of exercise before bedtime it will have a similar affect.
Adequate sleep is essential to wellbeing. Often we try to convince ourselves we don’t have time for sleep and it becomes the thing we cut back on in order to fit everything else into our day. In actually, it should be the last thing we cut back on.
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). Sleep Disorders Linked with Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/2017/04/sleep-disorders-linked-with-mental-illness/