How Sleep Affects Your Mood: The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Health

How Sleep Affects Your Mood: The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Health

It started with mild anxiety.

Emily, who asked to be identified only by her first name because she was speaking about her mental health, had just moved to New York after grad school, to start a marketing job at a large law firm.

She knew it was normal to feel a little nervous. But she wasn’t prepared for what came next: chronic insomnia.

Operating on only three or four hours of sleep, her anxiety soon mounted: at 25, she was “terribly nervous all the time.” Wreck.

One day, when a lawyer in her office yelled at her, she experienced the first of many panic attacks. At a doctor’s suggestion, she tried taking a sleeping pill, hoping it might “reset” her sleep cycle and improve her mood. It did not work.

Americans are chronically sleep deprived: a third of adults In the United States, they say they work less than 7 hours per night. Adolescents fare even worse: 70 percent of high school students do not get enough sleep on school nights.

And it has a profound effect on mental health.

An analysis of 19 studies found that while sleep deprivation impaired a person’s ability to think clearly or perform certain tasks, it had a greater negative effect on mood. And when the National Sleep Foundation conducted a investigation By 2022, half of those who reported sleeping less than 7 hours each weekday also reported having depressive symptoms. Some research even indicates that fighting insomnia can help prevent postpartum depression and anxiety.

It’s clear that sleep is important. But despite the evidence, continues to be A shortage of psychiatrists Or other doctors trained in sleep medicine, leaving many to train themselves.

So, what happens to our mental health if we don’t get enough sleep, and what can we do about it?

When people have trouble sleeping, it changes the way they experience stress and negative emotions, said Aric Prather, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who treats patients with insomnia. . “And for some, it can have a retroactive effect: feeling bad, ruminating, feeling stressed can carry over into our nights,” he said.

Carly Demler, 40, a stay-at-home mother in North Carolina, said she I went to bed one night and never fell asleep. From then on, she would get up at least once a week until 3 or 4 in the morning. This lasted over a year.

She became irritable, less patient and much more anxious.

Hormonal blood tests and a sleep study at a university laboratory gave him no answers. Even after taking Ambien, she stayed awake most of the night. “It was like my anxiety was a fire that got over the fence and ended up spreading into my nights,” she said. “I just felt like I had no control.”

Ultimately, it was cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, that brought Ms. Demler the most relief. Studies found that CBT-I. is more effective than sleeping pills in the long term: Up to 80 percent of people who try it notice an improvement in their sleep.

Ms. Demler learned not to “stay in bed and panic.” Instead, she gets up and reads so she doesn’t associate her room with anxiety, then goes back to bed when she’s tired.

“The feeling of gratitude that I get every morning, when I wake up and feel well-rested, I don’t think it will ever go away,” she said. “It was an unexpected glimmer of hope.”

Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, depending on Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. Teenagers and young children need even more.

It’s not just a question of quantity. THE quality of your sleep is also important. If it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, for example, or if you regularly wake up in the middle of the night, it is more difficult to feel rested, regardless of the number of hours spent in bed.

But some people “tend to think they’re functioning well even if they’re sleepy during the day or have trouble concentrating,” said Lynn Bufka, a clinical psychologist and spokesperson for the American Psychological Association.

Ask yourself how you feel during the day: do you find that you are more impatient or quicker to get angry? Do you have more negative thoughts or feel more anxious or depressed? Do you have more difficulty managing stress? Are you struggling to do your job effectively?

If so, it’s time to act.

We’ve all heard how important it is to have good sleep hygiene, adopting daily habits that promote healthy sleep. And it’s important to discuss this with your doctor to rule out any physical issues that need to be treated, such as a thyroid disorder or restless legs syndrome.

But that’s only part of the solution.

Conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder can make it more difficult to sleep, which can then exacerbate symptoms of mental illness, making it more difficult to sleep well.

“It becomes very difficult to break the cycle,” Dr. Bufka said.

Certain medications, including psychiatric medications like antidepressants, can also cause insomnia. If a medication is the cause, talk to your doctor about changing the medication, taking it earlier in the day or reducing the dose, said Dr. Ramaswamy Viswanathan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the State University of New York. Sciences University and new president of the American Psychiatric Association.

The cycle can also affect those without mental health disorders, when worry worsens sleep and lack of sleep worsens mood.

Emily, who worked at a large law firm, was so concerned about her inability to sleep that she didn’t even want to go to bed.

“You’re really starting to think I’ll never sleep,” she said. “The adrenaline is so strong you can’t do it.”

Eventually, she came across “Say Goodnight to Insomnia” by Gregg D. Jacobs. The book, which uses CBT-I. techniques, helped Emily reframe the way she thinks about sleep. She began writing down her negative thoughts in a journal and then changing them to positive ones. For example: “What if I can never go back to sleep again? » would become “Your body is made to sleep. If you don’t get enough rest one night, you will eventually. These exercises helped her stop catastrophizing.

Once she started sleeping again, she felt “much happier.”

Today, at 43, almost 20 years after moving to New York, she still draws on the techniques she learned and takes the book with her whenever she travels. If she doesn’t sleep far from home, “I’ll catch up on sleep for a few days if necessary,” she says. “I’m a lot more relaxed about it.”

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Eric D. Eilerman

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