Insomnia and mental disorders

In my last post I talked about Misophonia and that it can keep me from falling asleep, but there are many other (mental) disorders and sleeping disorders that can lead to sleepless nights and horrible, exhausting days afterwards. I would like to explore the topic by discussing the symptoms of sleeping disorders and what reasons and causes for sleeplessness exist. I will also list possible treatments and habits that can help reducing insomnia.

I think everyone has, sooner or later in their life, experienced what a night without sleep feels like and what happens the day afterwards. Lying awake in bed at night is not only annoying and unsettling, it also can be accompanied by thought spirals and panic attacks (article on intrusive thoughts will be coming in the future). Most people are only affected once in a while, but as soon as sleepless nights occur on a regular basis, it becomes a problem.

Sleeplessness can have many causes that are either physical, medical, psychiatric or environmental. I will be focusing on psychiatric causes, since they can lead to a reinforcing cycle, have serious consequences and are closely related to the topics I will address in the future. Psychiatric causes for insomnia include many mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Studies suggest that two thirds of people that experience sleeping disorders have them due to a psychiatric disorder.

Symptoms of insomnia

If we are deprived of sleep over a long period of time, it has serious consequence for our physical and mental health. Symptoms of insomnia are:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Slower reaction
  • Hard to focus and concentrate
  • Difficulty in controlling emotions
  • Lack of motivation

In relation to mental disorders

When dealing with mental disorders, such as depression, these symptoms enforce negative thought spirals and can make everything even worse. More negative thoughts, in turn, will keep you from sleeping again and so on. Similar effects can be seen with anxiety, as 50% of people who have anxiety have problems with falling asleep or experience panic attacks during the night. When your night is really rough, your anxiety is most likely to be worse the day after.

We all can relate to the problems of not sleeping, but when suffering from a mental disorder, everything will just be a lot worse. Not falling asleep and waking up early or a lot of times during the night and feeling trapped or lost in your thoughts can take your breath away and will make you feel dizzy and scared. When you are actually lucky enough to get a few hours of sleep or doze of for a short period of time, you do not feel rested or energized after that. At all. You start your day with no motivation and are already exhausted before you even have started to deal with all the problems of everyday life. How is someone, who suffers from anxiety, supposed to get through the day after this, when everyone without it, is already struggling so hard?

Treatment

For people who experience insomnia due to anxiety or depression medical treatment can only offer very few options:

  • sleeping pills (only help short term, for proper medical treatment a medical test, sleep evaluation and a diagnosis is needed)
  • medications for any underlying health issues
  • melatonin supplements (typically used for other kinds of sleeping disorders, probably not your best bet)

Next to professional help and medical treatment (e.g. sleeping pills), healthy and positive habits can help when dealing with insomnia:

  • Establish fixed bed and wake times
  • Avoid naps
  • Relax your body before going to bed (e.g. meditation or body awareness exercises)
  • Keep a sleep diary (hours, quality of sleep, energy level)
  • Don’t watch the clock
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine within 6 hours of sleep
  • Exercise regularly but not right before going to bed (stop 2-3 hours before)

If you want to find out more about different kinds of sleeping disorders, such as circadian rythmsleep disorders, parasomnia, hypersomnia or sleep related movement disorders, try one of the following links:

References:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems

https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/disorders

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-disorders-and-problems.htm

And for everyone out there, who suffers from insomnia and tosses and turns all night: Stay strong, you can do it! We will support you however we can!

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