Most people have experienced the psychological effects of a poor night’s sleep. Sleepless nights can lead to irritability, frustration, low mood, and vulnerability to stress. In turn, how we feel psychologically can affect how we sleep. For instance, when we feel anxious, the level of arousal in the body tends to be higher, which can lead to sleep disruption. And when we don’t sleep well, we tend to worry about lack of sleep, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consistent with this close sleep-mental health connection, researchers have found significant overlap between insomnia and other psychological disorders. Insomnia—characterized by difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or waking too early with an inability to fall back asleep—is commonly experienced in the context of major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
So does mental illness cause insomnia, or is it the other way around? In fact, the relationship goes both ways. For instance, let’s consider insomnia and depression. Insomnia can lead to fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, and a loss of pleasure in life. Simply put, life can feel harder and things less enjoyable. If these unpleasant side effects are severe and long-lasting enough, major depression may result. On the other hand, depression is often associated with sleep disturbances, such as difficulty initiating sleep, fragmented sleep, and alterations in the biological processes that regulate sleep. For some individuals, these sleep disturbances may become entrenched over time, progressing into full-blown insomnia.
The good news is that taking action and treating insomnia often has a positive effect on overall mental health. Cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I for short, is the recommended first-line treatment for insomnia. Research studies using CBT-I for co-occurring insomnia and major depression found that in addition to improved sleep, CBT-I also significantly improved depression symptoms. Similar results have been found for anxiety.
The mood-enhancing effects that extend beyond sleep may be explained by the strategies used when practicing CBT-I. In addition to teaching behavioural strategies to optimize the biological processes that regulate sleep, HALEO’s CBT-I program teaches ways to manage thoughts that interfere with good sleep and methods to relax the body and mind in preparation for sleep. Click here to learn more about insomnia and its recommended treatment.