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How Sleep Affects Mental Health

Updated: Jan 3

Sleep is the foundation to not only mental health, but physical health as well. If you are suffering immensely with sleep depravation- you may need to seek professional help and even emergency help if you have not slept in over 48 hours.

If you are experiencing a crisis- please call the national crisis hotline by dialing 988.

Can lack of sleep be a major contributor to psychiatric symptoms? According to Harvard Health, 50% to 80% of patients in typical psychiatric practice experience chronic sleep problems. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD/CPTSD- among other conditions.

Here are 3 ways sleep deprivation affects common mental health conditions.

#1 - The Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation Loop

Insomnia and Anxiety are like peanut butter and jelly- they just go together- but not in a delicious way.

It really can be a viscous cycle- anxiety can steal our sleep by keeping our minds racing or giving us bad dreams. On the flip side, lack of sleep can highly exacerbate anxiety disorders. Sleep deprivation can affect our emotional regulation and mood- making symptoms of anxiety particularly challenging.

Studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that those who are considered healthy will experience increased anxiety and distress when they get poor sleep. Those who suffer with mental health disorders are much more likely to experience chronic sleep problems, and thus those sleep problems are likely to increase psychiatric symptoms- including risk of self-harm.

#2 - Major Depression Disorder and Sleep

Much like those who suffer from anxiety- those who are struggling with depressive disorders may also experience the dreadful loop. Lack of sleep or oversleeping can contribute depression and vice versa- depression can contribute to sleep problems.

There are several studies that have found sleep deprivation and insomnia are linked to the increased risk of depression. Links between sleep and depression are strong. About three quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms, and hypersomnia is present in about 40% of young depressed adults and 10% of older patients, with a preponderance in females.

#3 - PTSD

Sleep disturbances including nightmares, insomnia and problems with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are diagnostic criteria for PTSD and can be an early indicator.

There is evidence that there are several regions in the brain that link PTSD and sleep problems. This includes the hippocampus, the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex and the insular cortex- which some studies show that these regions can be responsible for causing flashbacks, nightmares and hyperarousal. Some people struggling with PTSD and may be sleeping with a faster heart rate, which can indicate the individual may be in the fight/flight stress response.

Again, those who suffer with PTSD and insomnia may find themselves in the dreadful loop- where lack of sleep and increase PTSD symptoms and vice versa.

There is hope!

If you are suffering with sleep deprivation or any mental health issues please and would like more tips and resources to improve sleep check out my next blog post. If you are located in Texas and are interested in therapy, contact me to set up a free 15 minute consultation.

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