Excerpt: Sleep and Mental Health

by  Ms Nicole Paulie, M.Sc. Couns Psych.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep Deprivation and Mood

One of the most immediate effects of sleep deprivation on the body is how it affects one’s mood. People who suffer from disordered sleep are ten times more likely to develop depression, seventeen times more likely to develop anxiety (Taylor et al., 2005) and twenty times more likely to develop panic disorder (Weissman et al., 1997) than the average person.

In fact, partial sleep deprivation affects one’s mood even more strongly than it affects cognitive or physical functioning (Colten & Altevogt, 2006). Several studies have found that even just one week of less than 7 hours of sleep per night an result in significantly increased levels of anxiety, anger and irritability (e.g. Dinges et al., 1997; Neckelmann et al., 2007).

So when someone is experiencing sleep deprivation and they find themselves in a neutral situation, they are more likely to interpret that situation as having a negative connotation. This in turn can disrupt interpersonal relationships and reduce the quality of one’s work performance.

Sleep deprivation also decreases a person’s ability to obtain the same level of beneficial effects from positive experiences than someone who is fully rested. After an important accomplishment, people experiencing sleep deprivation show less of a positive response compared to those who had no sleep debt (Zohar et al., 2005).

A significant finding is that disordered sleep is linked with an increased risk for suicide (Bernert & Joiner, 2007). A community-based study of older people discovered that depression was linked to suicidality, but if poor sleep quality is also present, the risk for suicide was increased by thirty four per cent (Turvey et al., 2002). In fact, poor sleep resulted in an increased risk for suicide even if depressive symptoms were not present.

One of the complications of the sleep/mood relationship is that symptoms of depression and anxiety can often worsen sleep patterns, creating a vicious cycle. Certain symptoms of depression, such as rumination (circular negative thinking) can lead to sleep disturbances. Rumination might involve re-running a painful or embarrassing situation over and over in our heads, or worrying about what will happen in our work review next week. This can exacerbate depressive symptoms, feeding back into sleep disturbances.

People who suffer from rumination take longer to fall asleep than those who do not. Even one stressor can be enough for rumination to affect a night’s sleep (Zoccola, Dickerson & Lam, 2009). Recognising this cycle and understanding that sleep deprivation dramatically increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and panic disorders, illustrates how sleep really needs to be one of the first factors targeted when improving one’s mental health. The good news is that once lack of sleep (called “sleep debt”) is caught up, levels of anxiety, anger, and irritability quickly return to their normal baseline (Colten & Altevogt, 2006).

This is an excerpt From How to Be Happy and Healthy – the Seven Natural Elements of Mental Health published by Ashfield Press. Interested in learning more? Check out the book in its entirety here.  

Sleep and Mental Health
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