Have you ever heard about the Russian Sleep Experiment? It was not hard for me to believe when I had first read it, well, because Russians are pretty much notorious for such stuff but also because the relationship between sleep and mental health is actually that closely related. Even though the incident is a story conjured by a hyper-imaginative mind, it does hold a lot of truth.
The effects of sleep deprivation precede just exhaustion and fatigue. Although these may be the more visible and short-term effects, the onset of more grave conditions and mental disorders is underway. The relationship I’m highlighting here is irrespective of one’s lifestyle and workload. Sleep is as necessary and vital to an individual’s survival as breathing.
For example, a computer that has been turned on and idle can start heating up and, in time, prove problematic when not shut down or restarted regularly. The same goes for a human. Even when we’re not doing anything, we do not realize how many functions our brain is carrying out in our body from breathing, respiring, metabolizing, pumping blood, maintaining hormonal balance, and simultaneously alerting all sensory receptors.
Mental Health Benefits of Sleep
When our body falls asleep, it provides our body to concentrate on functions that are usually subsided when we’re awake. This includes strengthening the immune system, recovering from decision fatigue, regulating neurotransmitter and hormonal secretion, and restoring memory.
A healthy sleeper’s cycle switches between two major phases of rest with approximately 90-minute intervals. The period when our body falls into heavy sleep is indicated by lowered body temperature, low rhythmic breathing, decreased heart rate, and relaxed muscles. Our body uses this time to develop physiological changes like immunity boosting.
The other category that we experience during sleep is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is when we’re dreaming. Have you ever dreamt about falling from a high altitude? That is because your body makes the transition between the two phases to raise body temperature, blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. This phase allows our body to work upon memory, cognition, and emotions in complex ways.
Amongst the many other factors, sleep deprivation is a core factor that can impair thinking, cognition, and normal bodily functions. Scientists say that unhealthy sleeping habits can literally make the brain ‘eat itself.’
How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Mental Health
By definition, sleep deprivation is the condition when your body is forced or unable to fall asleep even when it’s tired and deserves the much-needed rest. When you forcefully keep yourself awake with stimulants and drugs or suffering from chronic pain and allergies, you’re basically missing out on the rest that your body needs.
This leads to sleeping disorders where your body clock is disturbed. Did you know there are about 70 different types of sleeping disorders, including insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and narcolepsy?
Numerous studies highlight the strong relationship between sleep and mental health.
Depression is a mental condition that is widely spread, especially among teenagers and young adults. An estimated 65-90% of the adult world population is victim to this, and about 90% of children suffer from depression. One prevalent symptom associated with it is insomnia and sleep problem.
Sleep disorders and depression share a bidirectional relation. Just like, people suffering from depression face difficulty maintaining a sleep routine, insomniac patients are more likely to develop depression and die of suicide.
2. Bipolar disorder
Bipolarity is when an individual exhibits two very contradicting personalities and may portray extreme behavior like aggression or passivity. Studies report that up to 99% of bipolar disorder people suffer from insomnia and sleep deprivation before a manic episode. On the other hand, there are reports of bipolarity that are symptomized by excessive sleeping or hypersomnia.
Conclusively, sleep disorders can worsen and trigger bipolar depression. Moreover, sleep problems can contribute to relapse and affect mood adversely.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that hinders judgment and a reasonable interpretation of reality. This is coupled with paranoia, hallucinations, and disordered thinking. Don’t the symptoms overlap too much with sleep deprivation? Extreme sleep disorders have symptoms very close to those of schizophrenia. This was exactly what was portrayed in the Russian Sleep Experiment.
Only a fatigued mind can function this disorderly and make up unrealistic scenarios. Almost all schizophrenics face difficulty in sleeping or staying awake. Sleep apnea, sleepwalking, and circadian rhythm problems are widespread in such people.
If you’ve taken care of a loved one with PTSD, you already know how the sleep patterns hinder rehabilitation and worsen the case. About 50% of adult patients with anxiety are affected by sleep disorders and are prone to panic attacks, OCD, and phobias.
As much as sleep can worsen generalized anxiety cases, it can also contribute to anxiety in people who have struggled in the past. Sleeplessness in PTSD can lead to the retention of negative emotional traumas and buffer the efforts of rehabilitation sessions.
ADHD is a mental health disorder majorly symptomized with impulsivity and is known to have almost the same symptoms as disturbed sleep patterns. Amongst people with ADHD. Nearly 50% are prone to show hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and emotional instability due to sleep problems. Children and adults with ADHD may also suffer from sleep-disordered breathing and various movement syndromes that lead to increased sleep latency and decreased sleep duration with mostly light slumber.
There are numerous mental health benefits of sleep, and there is no doubting the close relationship between sleep and mental health. We may not realize it, but sleeping on time can do wonders for our health. If you face difficulty sleeping, before consulting a doctor, make sure you checklist the following:
- Obey strict sleep hygiene – includes maintaining a timely body clock, turning off distractions, allocating a proper sleeping area.
- Avoid intake of energy drinks and caffeine near sleeping time. Alcohol and nicotine should be kept at a hand’s distance.
- Indulge infrequent and proper daily physical activity.
- Meditating and practicing breathing exercises.
Opting for cognitive behavioral therapy and train the body to fall asleep when suffering from insomnia.