Sleep and mental health have a close and bi-directional relationship. Poor sleep can make you irritable and grumpy the following day. You may find yourself down, sluggish, and physically tired the whole day. No matter how much coffee you take, you may still find it challenging to focus on work if you didn’t have a restful night.
Many sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep deprivation, hypersomnia, and sleep talking can be symptoms of a mental illness or can lead to mental disorders. In many cases of psychological problems like anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and hypertension, the patients have complained about having trouble snoozing.
Before dwelling into the details of sleep disorders and their potential effects on your mental state lets have some background of what happens when we sleep:
The human sleep cycle consists of alternating stages of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). These stages repeat themselves after approximately 90 minutes and rejuvenate the mind and body during each cycle.
NREM sleep has four stages. Each stage has a unique role to play.
- Stage 1 is the light sleep stage where the brain prepares to sleep.
- Stage 2 is the onset of sleep, and breathing becomes regular. The person starts becoming unaware of its environment.
- Stage 3 and 4 make the breathing even slower. It causes the muscles to relax and heart rate to slow down. The body starts to repair itself and increases blood to muscle tissues.
REM part of the sleep begins after stage 4 NREM. During REM, the brain is active, and rapid eye movements occur behind closed lids. Dreams also occur during this stage, and the body is entirely relaxed and immobile. REM is the deepest stage of sleep.
How Sleep Issues can Cause Mental Disorders
During the sleep cycle, a person’s brain is repairing itself, and essential hormones are released to improve health. If due to any reason, this cycle is disturbed, shortened or extended, chances of psychological disorders and emotional illness can increase.
Not getting healthy sleep may not necessarily lead to mental illness; however, sleep problems are common among people suffering from schizophrenia and depression. The symptoms of mental diseases and sleep problems overlap to the degree that scientists are unable to differentiate between them individually.
Sleep disorders can increase the level of stress hormones which destabilize the brain’s emotional regulation function. Neuro-transmitters in mind can go haywire as a result of sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, hypersomnia, and narcolepsy.
Sleep Deprivation and Depression
Insomnia Acute or chronic insomnia can persist for a long time and may not be related to other health problems. Secondary insomnia is a condition that is a result of a direct health problem like asthma. Insomnia can indirectly affect mental health by reducing the ability to process negative emotions.
Studies suggest that insomniacs react to negative images with far more emotions than healthy people. Their brain scans also show raised brain cell activity in areas dealing with emotional processing. Insomnia can trigger an undesirable response from a person when faced with an emotional dilemma.
Sleep Apnea and its Effects
Researchers and sleep scientists have linked obstructive sleep apnea with depression. Sleep apnea is a disorder that frequently wakes a person for a short period. Studies have concluded that people facing obstructive sleep apnea are much more prone to depression and anxiety than ordinary people.
The frequent pauses in a person’s sleep alters the level of neurochemical in his/her brain. This imbalance is detrimental to the mental health, thinking, and cognitive abilities of the patient. Sleep apnea is usually treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) in sleep clinics.
Emotions and Sleeping Habits
Your mood is the representation of your state of mind. It reflects what’s going on in your head and how you are feeling emotionally. Depression can make you irritable, and lack of sleep can make it worse. Your mood is thus directly related to the quality of bedtime.
The sleeping pattern can also be the basis of your bad mood. Professionals who perform essential services and work in shifts have altered sleep routines, affecting their social lives and mental health as well. Bipolar disorder and negative emotions are also a result of poor sleep patterns and lack of healthy sleep. Studies have found that before an episode of bipolar depression, insomnia, and other sleep issues usually reach their climax.
Anxiety, PTSD and ADHD
More than 50 percent of the patients suffering from anxiety, phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are also suffering from one or more sleep problems. People that are suffering from anxiety struggle to retain deep sleep as well.
Insomnia can also contribute to developing anxiety and slow the recovery process of PTSD. Insomniacs have difficulty losing negative emotions to fight OCD and PTSD.
Studies indicate that Attention Deficit HyperActivity Disorder (ADHD) among children is closely related to sleep issues. ADHD symptoms, breathing problems, and restless leg syndrome is so intertwined in young children that their studies are almost impossible to conduct. People living with ADHD also report difficulty falling asleep.
Are Sleep Disorders Medically Treatable?
Sleep disorders can be diagnosed and treated successfully with the latest advancements in medical science. Polysomnography, Blood testing (for genetic diseases), and electroencephalogram are used to diagnose sleep conditions.
Sleep clinics can suggest medication, dental guards, breathing aids, and even surgery in rare cases to cure sleep disorders like narcolepsy, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and snoring.
The most beneficial treatment for sleep-related issues is a lifestyle change. Sleeping habits, reduced caffeine intake, regular exercise, brisk walk, proper diet plan, and a new bed can help you overcome most of the common sleep issues.
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