Going Cuckoo Over Sleep, Or The Lack Thereof

A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow, so says Charlotte Bronte. Studies have linked sleep problems with a multitude of psychiatric conditions. Some medical professionals would say a lot of mental problems are caused by lack of sleep, and some would say that it’s the other way around, that psychiatric problems cause difficulty sleeping. But how is sleep related to your mental health?

Sleep is the natural state of rest observed not only by human beings but also by other species of the animal kingdom. Regular sleep is vital for one’s health and survival. This is characterized by a loss of consciousness, reduced voluntary body movement, decreased reaction to external stimuli, an increase rate of anabolism (cell synthesis), and a decreased rate of catabolism (cell breakdown).

Sleep consists of five stages. The first four stages are called non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. The last stage is the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Stage one is the transition from wake to sleep. Stage two is an intermediate level of sleep. Stages three and four are referred to as deep or slow wave sleep, with stage four as the deepest stage of sleep. The fifth stage of sleep, the REM stage, is the stage in sleep where we dream. All of these stages involve brain movement.

Sleeping problems
There are two sleeping difficulties most noted to be related to psychiatric illnesses:
Insomnia. In this sleeping problem, a patient has trouble falling or remaining asleep. Insomniacs usually don’t feel refreshed after a night’s rest. This is classified into acute (short-term) or chronic (the condition lasts for over a month).
Hypersomnia. When a patient has this condition, he feels extremely sleepy throughout the day. Patients with hypersomnia usually sleep long during the night and still take repeated naps throughout the day. Even though patients sleep long, they are still not refreshed.

Mental illnesses related to sleep problems
Here are some psychiatric conditions that are commonly related to having sleeping disorders.
Adjustment disorders. This is a condition wherein a person overreacts to any form of stress in their life. Patients with this disorder often complain of having insomnia.
Bipolar disorder. In this mental condition, a patient experiences periods of highs (mania) and lows (depression) alternately. Patients with this conditions are most often hypersomniacs.
Generalized anxiety disorder. A patient displays frequent patterns of worrying about things. Patients find it difficult to sleep because of the worries that go around their minds.
Panic disorder. A patient experiences an extreme fear and anxiety over something unexplainable. Patients often wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty going back to sleep.

How are sleeping problems and mental illnesses related?
People with sleeping disorders may manifest symptoms of the mental illness or that of the sleeping disorder itself. However some noted signs are:
Increased anxiety at bedtime.
An inclination to staying in bed more often.
Fatigue or complete lack of energy.
Difficulty concentrating.
A tendency to fall asleep when in low-stimulation situations.
Feeling disoriented when aroused.
Decreased appetite.
Memory impairment.
Recent studies have shown that brain activity associated with mental illnesses have been observed in healthy people who’ve been sleep deprived for a night. An increase in activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotion center, was seen in patients who’ve been asked to miss a night’s rest. The same study noted that sleep deprivation affected the way the prefrontal cortex, which damps down the amygdala, reacts. The same disruption of prefrontal cortex function has been noted in patients with certain psychiatric disorders.

In conclusion, sleep is not just a function that we need to engage in to rest our body. Our mind’s health depends on it too. Our busy lifestyles may tell you that sleep is for the weak. But think of how much weaker a lack of sleep may make you.