It’s generally accepted that sound, restful sleep is essential for maintaining good physical health, but what’s perhaps less well known is that sleeping well on a regular basis is also necessary for mental well-being. Difficulty sleeping is believed to both raise the risk of developing psychological problems, as well as contributing directly to their severity and duration. Conversely, it appears that treating sleep disorders may also help relieve underlying psychological issues.
Americans as a society are particularly sleep deprived, due largely to their lifestyles, demanding work schedules and obsessions with attention-grabbing mobile phones, laptops and other digital devices. Although adults require 7 to 9 hours’ uninterrupted sleep, a recent Gallup poll disclosed that the average American sleeps just 6.8 hours nightly, and 40% sleep less than six hours. According to a study published by Harvard Medical School, 10% to 18% of the U.S. adult population experiences some sort of chronic sleep disorder. That number, however, jumps to between 50% and 80% among patients undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Psychological Disorders And Sleeping Difficulties
Although the relationship between sleep and mental health isn’t fully understood, studies indicate that regularly getting a good night’s sleep promotes mental well-being, whereas nightly bouts of disrupted sleep can bring on negative thoughts and emotional instability. Problems falling and staying asleep are especially prevalent in those who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Normal sleep consists of two primary categories. The first is known as “quiet sleep,” which consists of four increasingly deep stages of slumber, during which the muscles relax, body temperature drops and breathing and heart rate slow. Quiet sleep’s deepest stage is when physiological changes occur that boost the efficiency of the body’s immune system.
The second category of normal sleep is rapid eye movement, or REM, which is when dreaming takes place. It’s also when the body’s temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing revert to the same levels as when the person is awake. It’s during REM sleep that memory, learning abilities and emotional health are enhanced. Interruptions in sleep, however, affect neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels, which impair logical thinking, disrupt emotional control and amplify psychiatric conditions. The opposite is also true; sound, uninterrupted sleep promotes rational thinking and helps keep moods and emotions in check.
The Effects of Psychological Disorders On Sleep
There are over 70 known sleep disorders, the most common of which are insomnia, sleep apnea, nighttime restlessness and narcolepsy. Sleep disorder frequencies and durations can vary, but independent studies conducted by Harvard Medical School and others indicate that their relationship to psychiatric problems may be biological in nature. Here are several types of psychiatric disorders and their effects on sleep:
Depression is a mental condition that has a negative effect on moods, thoughts and actions. According to a Harvard Medical School study, up to 90% of children and adults diagnosed with severe depression also suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Difficulties falling and staying asleep appear to similarly increase the chances of developing depression. Indicating a link between problems sleeping and psychological disorders, a study conducted by a Michigan Health Maintenance Organization concluded that when compared to normal sleepers, people with a history of insomnia were four times more likely to suffer from severe depression.
Bipolar Disorder, which is also known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, causes extreme shifts in mood, energy levels and the capacity to carry out everyday tasks. Various studies indicate that between 69% and 99% of people with bipolar disorder also suffer from insomnia, which can worsen just prior to the onset of a bout of depression. The lack of sleep that results can bring on incidences of mania, mood swings and worsening of bipolar disorder symptoms. During these episodes of bipolar disorder depression, sufferers often experience hypersomnia, causing them to sleep for extended periods or nap frequently throughout the day, which increases the chance of triggering new manic or depressive episodes.
Anxiety Disorders cause problems sleeping in more than 50% of adults who suffer from the condition. Anxiety is common in persons with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), obsessive-compulsive disorder and various fears and phobias. Insomnia appears to be associated with the development of anxiety disorders, although it’s somewhat less of a factor than for developing major depression. Anxiety disorders can also affect young children, causing them to take longer to fall asleep. Once they do, these children tend to sleep less deeply and restfully when compared to youngsters without anxiety disorders.
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurological condition that interferes with the person’s ability to concentrate and control his or her emotions. ADHD also disrupts the decision-making process and the ability to behave rationally. Other symptoms include having trouble falling and staying asleep. People with ADHD also tend to experience sleep-interrupting, involuntary nighttime movements, such as restless leg syndrome. As many as fifty percent of U.S. children are afflicted with ADHD, and although it’s generally thought of as a childhood ailment, up to 5% of U.S. adults also suffer from the disorder. In addition to the other symptoms, ADHD in adults is closely linked to depression, mood swings and substance abuse.
As more is learned about the co-occurring symptoms and causes of poor sleep and mental health, expect to see increasingly more research being conducted into the complex interrelationship of the causes and effects between the two. Also look for new and increasingly effective means of treating and perhaps ultimately curing both disorders.