Many people in America are sleep-deprived. This is a big problem because getting the right amount of sleep is essential for physical and mental health. Poor sleep habits have been linked to depression and anxiety, increased risk of heart disease and cancer, memory problems, and weight gain. Sleep-related medical problems account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs annually. Bad sleep also affects productivity for the workforce.
Poor sleep effect the ability to learn and retain new information and skills. People suffering from sleep deprivations have impaired cognitive ability and have trouble thinking clearly. Regions of the brain associated with learning are stimulated during the deepest stage of the sleep cycle known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. People who go through a full REM cycle are more likely to recall recently learned information; whereas, those who are deprived of REM sleep show less ability to recall skills they were taught recently. When the natural sleep cycle is disrupted, it impairs the brain’s ability to store and remember information.
Common Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders are more likely to coincide with mental health disorders. Chronic problems relating to sleep affect 10 percent to 18 percent of adults in the general U.S. population compare that to 50 percent to 80 percent of psychiatric patients. Many people who suffer from mental health disorders also have some chronic sleeping problem. People with sleep disorders suffer from poor quality, timing, and amount of sleep. These problems lead to distress and impairment during the day. When chronic problems sleeping effect your daily life, it’s time to seek professional help. Some sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
Insomnia—Everyone has a hard time sleeping from time to time. Insomnia is when an individual chronically has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. The disorder can be diagnosed when symptoms of insomnia persist for three months or more. The causes of insomnia vary among cases. Some common causes are high-stress levels, anxiety or depression, certain medication, or drug and alcohol abuse. Insomnia is by far the most common sleep disorder. About one-third of Americans suffer from it. Often cognitive behavioral therapy or medication are used to combat this disorder.
Sleep Apnea—Sleep Apnea is caused by a complete or partial blockage of the throat while the person sleeps. Most people who suffer from this disorder don’t realize they have it. An individual with sleep apnea will often suffer from sleepiness during the day, morning headaches, and loud snoring. They don’t realize when they stop breathing multiple times each night. The most common treatment for apnea is a CPAP machine that uses air to keeps the individual’s airway open during the night. Approximately one in five adults have some form of apnea.
Narcolepsy—Narcolepsy blurs boundaries between sleep and wakefulness. An individual with narcolepsy might feel very sleepy and fatigued during the day, have vivid dream-like hallucinations, experience sleep paralysis, and disrupted nighttime sleep. Key symptoms of narcolepsy are sleep attacks, excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and, for some, sudden loss of muscle control. Narcolepsy is caused by a loss of cells in the brain that secrete hypocretin, a chemical in the brain that is important for regulating wakefulness.
Mental Health Disorders and Sleep
Sleep problems often correlate with other mental health conditions. In some cases, the sleeping trouble might contribute to or cause the mental health condition rather than just being a symptom. For some people, treating the sleep disorder may help relieve symptoms associated with a mental health condition. In other cases, treating the mental health might improve sleep.
Depression—Sleep problems are linked to cases of depression. Somewhere between 65 percent to 90 percent of patients with depression also experience sleep problems. The majority of these individuals show symptoms of insomnia. However, one in five suffers from sleep apnea. Often times the sleep problems will develop before the patient shows signs of depression. In fact, sleep problems increase the risk of developing depression. In a 1989 study, participants who report a history of insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression within three years. Depressed patients who also suffer from insomnia don’t respond as well to treatments than those without sleep disorders. Even when patients moods improve with antidepressants, they are more likely to relapse later on if they have sleeping problems.
Bipolar Disorder—Somewhere between 70 percent to 99 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder also suffer from sleep issues. The problems range from insomnia or getting very little sleep during a manic episode to excessive sleeping call hypersomnia during bipolar depression. Others may experience restless sleep. These sleep problems tend to worsen before an episode of mania or bipolar depression, and lack of sleep can trigger mania. Sleep problems also adversely affect mood and contribute to relapse.
Anxiety—More than half of patients with anxiety disorders also have sleep problems. Anxiety disorders commonly associated with sleep problems include post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. Insomnia is a risk factor for developing anxiety. Also, developing insomnia can worsen symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
If you suffer from any of these conditions, know that help is available. Talk to your doctor about what lifestyle changes, behavioral interventions, or medications might work for your situation. Also consider brain performance training at a center. Places like Neurocore in Michigan and Florida create customized brain-training programs to help improve sleep.