Publication date: Aug 05, 2020
Poor sleep is a recognized risk factor for the development of a range of mental health issues.
As well as increasing the risk of developing mental health problems, sleep disturbances are also a common feature of most mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Prof. Daniel Freeman, a psychiatrist, and his colleagues at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom believe that the two-way relationship between sleep problems and poor mental health can result in a downward spiral.
Writing in The Lancet Psychiatry, they say that doctors can be slow to address these issues in people with mental health problems: -The traditional view is that disrupted sleep is a symptom, consequence, or nonspecific epiphenomenon of [mental ill health]; the clinical result is that the treatment of sleep problems is given a low priority.
An alternative perspective is that disturbed sleep is a contributory causal factor in the occurrence of many mental health disorders.
An escalating cycle then emerges between the distress of the mental health symptoms, effect on daytime functioning, and struggles in gaining restorative sleep. “
A form of cognitive behavioral therapy for treating insomnia (CBT-I) has proven its worth as a way to tackle this cycle of sleep problems and mental health conditions.
Psychiatrists have proposed three interrelated factors to explain the close two-way relationship between sleep and mental illness: genetics, in particular relating to the circadian -clock” that regulates the sleep-wake cycle Most of us have intuited from personal experience that a night of disturbed sleep can make us feel a little down and grumpy the next day.
Els van der Helm and Matthew Walker, sleep scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have speculated that the normal pattern of emotional processing that occurs during REM sleep breaks down in people with depression.
Breaking out of the cycle This year, psychiatrists in the Netherlands have launched a major investigation of sleep problems in people with newly diagnosed mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
Describing their forthcoming study in the journal BMC Psychiatry, the psychiatrists write: -Despite a high occurrence of sleep disorders and established negative effects on mental health, little attention is paid to sleep problems in mental health care.
Sleep disorders are frequently diagnosed years after onset; years in which poor sleep already exerted detrimental effects on physical and mental health, daytime functioning, and quality of life. “
If successful, their clinical trial will provide hope that there is a way to slow down or even prevent the vicious cycle of poor sleep quality and worsening mental health.
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