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How Can Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Mental Health?

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Sleep research is steadily establishing itself as an important field, and scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of sleep for quite some time now. It is believed that having enough sleep helps us to deal with adversity and demands in our busy lives. Sleep is, in many regards, a built-in biological source of the ability to bounce back and be resilient. And while the connection between sleep and mental health is not fully understood, many scientists and researchers believe that a good night’s sleep helps foster emotional and mental resilience. Sleep deprivation sets the stage for depression, negative thinking, emotional vulnerability, and anxiety.

A lot of Americans are sleep deprived, with over 25 million people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Those with psychiatric conditions are even more prone to be groggy or yawning during the day. Studies suggest that sleep problems are particularly common in people living with depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, OCD, and schizophrenia.

Until recently, psychiatrists and other clinicians who specialized in the treatment of mental disorders have thought that sleeping disorders were a symptom of mental illnesses. However, recent studies in both children and adults have shown that chronic sleep disruption is actually a cause for the development of some psychiatric disorders. What’s more, sleep problems associated with these mental health disorders make it even more challenging to experience the benefits of treatment and properly manage the symptoms.

For a better understanding of these latest findings, we’ll show you what the connection between sleep and mental health disorders is.

Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health Disorders

Poor sleep is both a cause and a symptom of mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation may contribute to both the development and the prolongation of a mental health disorder by making it more difficult to benefit from the treatment.

Many individuals with insomnia (inability to sleep) and hypersomnia (excessive sleep) have some kind of psychiatric condition. People in good mental health do not exhibit high rates of sleep disorders. The difference is so high that nobody even questions the connection between sleep disorders and mental illness anymore.

People who have mental health disorders suffer from insufficiency of restorative sleep. Even after a full night’s sleep, they wake up still feeling tired. That can be caused by either waking up during the night, waking too early in the morning, or falling asleep too late at night. In fact, many studies suggest that people with mental health disorders experience changes to their sleeping patterns. More often than not, these individuals spend more time in lighter stages of sleep, and less time in deep and REM stages of sleep.

People with insomnia tend to suffer from this problem—spending less time in the deeper parts of sleep and getting less sleep overall. The thing that makes their disorder so frustrating is that they start to feel like there is no relief from their discomfort. What’s more, this lack of quality sleep makes it more difficult for them to cope with the symptoms of their illnesses. The REM stage of sleep provides us with the cognitive and emotional benefits of sleep. Sufficient REM sleep helps us to regulate our emotions and make good judgments as we feel emotionally balanced. Our brain processes the information as it should. Without it, we’re prone to poor decision-making and irrationality; we’re moodier and have difficulty remembering things.

Together, insomnia and mental health disorders exacerbate the effects of one another, creating a negative feedback loop. Once these effects start kicking in, they push the individual in a downward spiral. Some studies have even found a strong correlation between insomnia and suicide.


Anxiety is caused by stress. Regardless of how big or small, stress affects the nervous system. Patients with an anxiety disorder experience stress at a more acute level, and regardless of the cause of their stress, their nervous system doesn’t get back to normal the way it should.

This heightened state of anxiety forces their nervous system to stay alert at all times, which is the direct opposite of the sort of mindset necessary for falling asleep. This state also causes hormonal imbalance. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, works as an antagonist for melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. When we experience more stress, it’s tougher for our brains to produce sufficient amounts of melatonin. Here are the sleep problems caused by anxiety disorders:

  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Nocturnal panic attacks

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Bojana Petcovic is a content creator for DisturbMeNot.co. Working with sleep experts made her value more the benefits of getting a proper night’s rest even if you get less than the ideal amount of sleep. Always a health buff, she enjoys writing about the exciting and fun side of being healthy.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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3 thoughts on “How Can Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Mental Health?

  1. Robert Reny says:

    Sleep Could Prevent Alzheimer’s, and you have one more reason why you should get enough sleep. A study was conducted by the researchers of Boston University says brain toxins are eliminated during sleep and that’s how it helps in preventing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

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