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Lack of Sleep and Mental Health

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It’s long been known that mental health problems and lack of sleep go hand in hand. People with mental illness typically have problems with sleep, but the converse, studies show, is also true: sleep deprivation can cause mental health problems. The good news? Treating sleep disorders can lesson symptoms of mental illness.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, NewBridge Services is sharing information about the connection between lack of sleep and mental health, and ways to get a better night’s sleep.

Photo by Jordan Bauer on Unsplash

Anyone who’s suffered sleepless nights knows how awful they leave you feeling. Adults on average need seven to nine hours of shut-eye. When you don’t get it, you can feel irritable and drowsy all day. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to more serious illnesses, both physical and mental. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are physical problems linked to chronic sleep problems, but so is depression.

Researchers determined a causal relationship between insomnia (the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep) and mental health conditions including paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, according to Harvard Health Publishing, a division of Harvard Medical School.

Benefits of Sleep

According to healthfinder.gov, a website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, getting enough quality sleep can help:

  • Reduce how often you get sick
  • Maintain a health weight
  • Lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease
  • Improve your mood/reduce stress
  • Think more clearly
  • Make better decisions and avoid injuries
  • Improve relationships

Mental Health and Lack of Sleep

About 70 million Americans suffer from the more than 70 identified sleep disorders, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy as major sleep disorders.

  • Insomnia

Insomnia is characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, which can cause daytime drowsiness.

  • Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea involves periods when breathing stops and starts during sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include snoring or gasping during sleep, halts in breathing, and daytime sleepiness.

  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome causes aches and pains in the legs during sleep time, and a compulsion to move your legs to relieve the discomfort.

  • Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy affects the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles and is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and bouts of sudden sleep. It involves irregular patterns in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.

Sleep and Mental Health Statistics

Adults with mental illness are far more likely to have a sleep disorder (between 50 and 80 percent) than the general population (between 10 and 18 percent), according to Mental Health America. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that more than half of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is frequently associated with poor sleep, and nightmares that cause poor sleep may be related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), NAMI noted. Alcohol and other drugs can also caused interruptions to sleep.

Treatments for Sleep Disorders

Treatments suited for the different types of sleep disorders have proven effective, including medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, devices like that ensure air supply (continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP), and bright light therapy, which treats seasonal affective disorder, among others. 

The first-line treatment for improving sleep is maintaining good sleep habits, exercising regularly and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.


Tips for Better Sleep

The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommend these tips to improve sleep:

  • Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  • Create a room for sleep – avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake.  If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired.

If you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, contact NewBridge Services at 973-316-9333 or services@newbridge.org, or visit newbridge.org.

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