The Reciprocal Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health
November 15th, 2017
Loss of sleep is more than just a symptom of poor mental health.
According to a letter published by Harvard Medical School, “Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.” Until somewhat recently, lack of sleep was considered only to be a symptom of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD. However, according to Daniel Freeman, co-author of a recent research paper from the University of Oxford, “[lack of] sleep is one of the leading causes.”
The most common sleep problem described by patients is insomnia, which is difficulty falling or staying asleep. Research has shown that by treating insomnia, one can effectively treat other mental health problems. In particular, the Oxford study showed that individuals who underwent cognitive behavioural therapy specifically designed to treat insomnia found that along with improvements in sleep patterns, they experienced fewer hallucinations and less depression and anxiety.
“Research has shown that by treating insomnia, one can effectively treat other mental health problems.”
What is encouraging about this research is that it offers those suffering from mental health issues more options and opportunity for treatment. It also illuminates the multifaceted nature of mental health issues by showing that there is not simply one cure. Besides seeking medical help, which is always highly recommended over anecdotal suggestions, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your sleep.
Harvard Medical School’s Mental Health Letter stresses the effects that drugs can have on one’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Caffeine and nicotine both increase heart rate and make it harder to fall asleep, which may not be too surprising. However, alcohol can actually have a negative impact on sleep as well. While it may initially help you fall asleep, once it wears off it is likely you will wake up. Maintaining healthy “sleep hygiene” can help you get better sleep as well. Sleep hygiene refers to nightly habits that can affect one’s sleep. It is recommended that your bed be used only for sleep and not for eating or doing work. Similarly, televisions and laptops should be kept out of bedrooms as much as possible, and an effort should be made to keep the room as dark as possible at night.
If you have tried these methods before and still suffer from an inconsistent and troubled sleep schedule, talk to a trained professional. There are plenty of resources available on campus for those with mental health concerns. Regardless of what you are going through, there will always be someone more than willing to talk with you.