We all know that sluggish feeling after a few nights of poor sleep. Whether it’s because of a newborn baby, the neighbor’s loud music, overthinking what we said in a conversation earlier that day, or the plethora of other reasons for a sleepless night, sleep deprivation is a surefire way to keep us from feeling like ourselves. The irritability, anxiety, and overwhelming fatigue can make even the simplest of tasks seem difficult at work, home, or school. So is it any surprise that continued insomnia can have a direct impact on your physical and mental wellbeing? Research shows that a lack of sleep causes symptoms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety , attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.
What is Insomnia?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-10 hours of sleep each night for the average adult. Although most people don’t get as much sleep as they’d like, they stick to the guidelines well enough to get enough sleep to feel refreshed the next day. Insomnia is different. Many people think that insomnia means a complete lack of sleep, but it actually encompasses a number of sleep issues including non-restful sleep, consistently waking up in the middle of the night, staying awake for hours in the middle of the night, and difficulty falling asleep.
Sleep studies prove that nearly 50% of adults with insomnia have at least one mental health problem, and up to 90% of adults battling depression have experienced problems sleeping. Unfortunately, even if an individual is undergoing treatment for their mental illness, unless their insomnia is addressed too, they may face slower recovery times. For example, if a person is going through the necessary steps to overcome their depression, but continues to have insomnia night after night, they are less likely to be responsive to their treatment. This can lead to greater relapses than those without sleeping problems.
Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health
Despite all the time researchers have spent on looking for the correlation between insomnia and mental health, there doesn’t seem to be one specific reason how insomnia leads to mental illness. Some research suggests that sleep deprivation may affect one’s ability to thoroughly manage negative emotions, and if prolonged, can lead to various mental health issues. A consistent lack of sleep has been shown to lead to greater emotional reactivity as indicated in other studies. Those with insomnia had greater emotional reactions to unpleasant images than to pleasant ones, while people who had appropriate amounts of sleep showed no difference in their emotional reactions to the images. Furthermore, another study provides neurobiological evidence that insomnia may cause dysfunction in emotional brain circuitry, thereby increasing the risk relationship between insomnia and depression.
Causes & Negative Effects of Insomnia
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are medical causes for insomnia such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, endocrine problems, and many others, such as invisible illnesses. Additionally, several medications can cause insomnia including alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, some antidepressants, and other drugs. If you think you are experiencing insomnia because of the medication you are taking, be sure to let your doctor know immediately. If left untreated, all these factors can be detrimental to your quality of life, including your mental health. Everything from your memory and visibility to changes in mood, your ability to pay attention and general psychological well-being are impacted. A person struggling with sleeplessness may also experience weight gain. When the body lacks the energy it should otherwise recieve through sleep, it looks for it in other ways such as increasing appetite and hunger. Most often the cravings include calorie-dense foods that are high and sugar carbohydrates. Increased weight gain due to insomnia can also cause depression.
Treating Insomnia and Mental Illness
Out of desperation, many individuals with insomnia attempt to treat their sleeplessness with sleeping pills and medications. While they may provide a quick fix, over time, these techniques can have several side effects including addiction and making insomnia worse. You may want to try some natural methods to support your insomnia treatment.
Follow a Schedule
Keep your bedtime and wake-up time the same, even on the weekends. By sticking to a regular sleep schedule, your body clock will respond. Avoid the urge to nap during the day; it will only disturb the sleep pattern you are attempting to create.
Provide a Quality Sleep Environment
Avoid using your bedroom as a place for excess papers, books, and other items. Do your best to keep your bedroom neat and tidy as clutter has been linked to anxiety and depression. Keep your bedroom and bedtime relaxing by keeping your sleep environment free from electronics and unnatural light. If you wake up in the middle of the night, avoid checking your phone. The unnatural light can throw off your circadian rhythm causing you to stay awake. Not to mention, reading a text or email may lead to anxiety or other emotions that will keep you awake.
Exercise and Practice Meditation
Get plenty of exercise most days of the week but avoid doing vigorous exercises before bed. Try to practice meditation or yoga to help you relax before getting into bed for the night. Do your best to go to bed sleepy so you don’t immediately start tossing and turning. If after 20 minutes you’re unable to fall asleep, get up and do a relaxing activity.
Seek Professional Help for Your Insomnia Through Counseling
Research proves that psychological treatment can improve insomnia. An Australian study performed on 1,149 participants, showed that those participants who received cognitive behavior therapy-based treatment had a lower incidence of depression symptoms than those participants who were offered treatment without any relation to insomnia. Many therapists use cognitive behavior therapy treatment, which includes training a patient to interpret emotional information less negatively. This type of therapy has been proven to help a variety of symptoms linked to mental health problems.
It’s time to stop putting off your mental health and finally get the treatment you need to overcome your insomnia, and any mental health challenges you are facing. Go ahead and get started today by finding a therapist in your area.