Poor sleep worsens mental health problems

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Experts say there is a link between poor sleep and mental health issues. Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images
  • Researchers say poor sleep quality and mental health issues are linked, each of which can cause the other.
  • Experts say the effects of poor sleep on mental health have always been underestimated.
  • They say this latest research emphasizes the need for good sleep habits, including going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day.

People living with mental health problems are more likely to not sleep well, says new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) claim that people with diagnosed mental disorders have poorer quality of sleep, including waking up more often and for longer periods of time than the general population.

The study was based on data from 89,205 participants in the UK who wore wrist accelerometers that tracked body movements around the clock for a week.

This is the largest study of its kind ever to be conducted, according to PLOS Medicine.

The researchers said measuring the quality of sleep was just as important to their work as recording the total amount of sleep.

However, like the proverbial chicken and egg question, it wasn’t entirely clear what the causes were.

“The relationship between sleep and mental health is two-way” Michael wainberg, PhD, lead author of the study and researcher at Krembil Center for Neuroinformatics, said PLOS Medicine.

“Poor sleep contributes to poor mental health and poor mental health contributes to poor sleep. Differences in sleep patterns were a hallmark of all the mental illnesses we studied, regardless of the diagnosis, ”he said.

Dr James Greenblatt, the chief medical officer of the Walden Behavioral Center in Waltham, Mass., told Healthline that sleep disturbances are “strongly correlated” with mental health problems.

“The vast majority of psychiatric diagnoses result in insomnia and sleep disturbances,” Greenblatt said. “Sleep disturbances are seen in all psychiatric disorders, although they are also found in high stress situations without mental illness. As such, it has become increasingly clear that the connection can work both ways. “

Greenblatt said the importance of sleep can be a matter of life and death.

“The latest research clearly establishes the relationship between mental health and sleep, making clinicians increasingly aware of the importance of the link between the two,” he said.

“The most extreme example of sleep disturbances and psychiatric illnesses is the relationship between poor sleep and suicide. The American Psychiatric Association’s recent manual on suicide prevention even added a new chapter with multiple references to the relationship between suicide risk and insomnia, ”Greenblatt said.

Dr Anandhi Narasimhan, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and writer, told Healthline that sleep has always been underestimated when it comes to the well-being of humans.

“One of the biggest life cycle changes where sleep is underestimated is the experience of being a new parent,” Narasimhan said.

“Even with support, new parents are often sleep deprived, have altered sleep patterns, and this contributes to mental health symptoms,” she said. “In some fields, such as medicine, there have been new rules to limit the hours of trainee physicians with regard to calling times so that sleep is counted as important. “

Researchers in the study said that up to 80 percent of people with mental health issues may have trouble sleeping.

“We know that sleep disorders represent a heavy burden on society, including the economy” Dr Michael Mak, a sleep disorders specialist from CAMH, told PLOS Medicine. “And we know that treatments that improve the quality of sleep, whether it’s therapy or certain types of drugs, can improve mental health outcomes.”

Narasimhan said good sleep hygiene is important.

“This includes having a consistent routine, going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time,” she said. “Turning off digital devices well before bed is also helpful in promoting sleep and helping to relax. “

Greenblatt said that managing biological factors such as nutritional deficiencies and inflammation also plays an important role in good sleep.

“Nutrients like zinc and magnesium are essential in making melatonin, the hormone secreted to promote sleep at night,” he explained.

“Inflammation is our biological response to stress, infections and other environmental challenges. Research has shown that insomnia also contributes to increased inflammation. This combination (of) inflammation and insomnia then acts in a combined way, contributing to or exacerbating the psychiatric illness, ”he said.

Greenblatt suggested using supplements such as lavender or valerian, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), magnesium, and melatonin.

“Solving sleep disorders is one of the most important factors for health and well-being, and one of the most important factors in the treatment of anxiety and depression,” said Greenblatt.

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