Updated: Jul 30
Have you ever gone to bed stressed about an important early-morning meeting? You know you need to be well-rested in order to put your best foot forward, so you spend the whole night lying wide awake thinking about how you really need to fall asleep? It’s something we’ve all experienced. No matter how tired your body is, your mind just won’t shut off.
Dealing with the rare restless night is one thing, but for many people, restlessness isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, it’s estimated that 40 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder. And with sleep and mental health being so closely related, there’s an undeniable connection taking place.
50% to 80% of people seeking mental health care also complain of issues with sleep, and those who are suffering from depression, anxiety, or ADHD are particularly likely to grapple with sleep as well. Experts once believed sleep disturbances to be a result of mental health issues. However, more recent research has suggested that this may not be the whole story.
These studies have found that sleep disturbances may actually be working as a trigger, raising your risk of developing a mental health condition. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why this is, they have found some connections.
When we sleep, we cycle through different stages of rest – REM and non-REM sleep. Studies have shown that REM sleep helps our brains improve learning skills, memory, and overall emotional health. When this type of sleep is disrupted, our neurotransmitters and stress hormones are also disrupted. Therefore, this disruption can exacerbate any already-present symptoms of mental health conditions and vice versa.
Depression and Sleep
Various studies have shown that up to 90% of adults and children with depression also suffer from some form of sleep issue. Typically, insomnia and sleep apnea being are the most common conditions.
One longitudinal study found that participants with insomnia were four times more likely to develop depression than their non-insomniac counterparts. Several other studies have looked at the relationship between sleep and depression in young people. Interestingly, they found that sleep problems began before their depression did.
Anxiety and Sleep
It’s estimated that more than half of adults suffering from generalized anxiety disorder also have sleep issues. Anxiety and sleep can have a cyclical relationship. Being anxious can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep, which can then cause anxiety about losing sleep. One survey found that over half of people afflicted with both sleep issues and anxiety developed anxiety specific to falling asleep at night.
Much like depression and sleep, losing quality rest can amplify the symptoms of anxiety. But unlike depression, studies have shown that anxiety symptoms typically surface before sleep problems do.
ADHD and Sleep
There are fewer studies on the effects of ADHD on sleep, but many adults and children with ADHD will complain of similar sleep disturbances. Many sufferers will frequently experience “perverse sleep” – being awake when it’s time for bed and being tired when it’s time to be awake.
People with ADHD will frequently report issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting deep, restful sleep. These problems can be triggered by ADHD, but can also make symptoms like distractibility and lack of focus worse when sleep deprived.
Recognizing the power of sleep and its relationship with health and wellness is more vital than ever in today’s busy, restless culture. Understanding how one affects the other is important for taking steps to correct the problem.
Dodson, William. (2004, February/March). “This Is Why You’re Always So Tired.” Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-sleep-disturbances-symptoms/
Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2018, June 19). “Sleep and Mental Health.” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
Swierzewski, Stanley. (2016, February 23). “Sleep Disorders.” Retrieved from http://www.healthcommunities.com/sleep-disorders/overview-of-sleep-disorders.shtml