How Mental Health Impacts Sleep

Adults |

We know stress and sleep deprivation have a number of detrimental effects on the body, including impaired thinking, weight gain, and the inability to control emotions. The worst part is, sleep deprivation and stress contribute to a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to break and often results in mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Amazingly, this is only scratching the surface in terms of how sleep impacts our mental health. But what about how our mental state impacts sleep?

There’s no denying sleep and mental health have a reciprocal relationship. Lack of sleep impacts mental health, and vice versa. One thing is for sure: when our mental health is on the rocks, our sleep is right there with it.

Research shows Americans with psychiatric conditions are far more prone to sleep issues and abnormal sleep habits. In fact, chronic sleep problems affect 50 to 80 percent of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10 to 18 percent of adults in the general U.S. population. So what’s the connection between mental illness and sleep disorders?

Mental Illness and Sleep Disorders

Traditionally, clinicians believed sleep disorders were a symptom of mental illness. Now, current research suggests sleep problems may raise risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders. But it’s not that simple. The link between sleep health and mental health is stronger and more complicated than ever.

It’s important to note that the relationship between these two ailments varies in severity and complexity across different disorders. One mental illness may develop in part due to a specific sleep disorder, but it can also be a symptom of the same mental illness — creating a positive feedback loop. Some mental issues may show no causal relationships with sleep at all. And some sleep disorders have no relationship with mental disorders whatsoever.

The most common mental illnesses in the United States are anxiety and depressive disorders, affecting roughly 40 million American adults, of which 50 to 90 percent also have a sleep disorder. The most common sleep ailments for individuals with mental illness are insomnia (not being able to sleep) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much), with sleep apnea following close behind.

While the relationship is complex, here’s what we know for a fact:

• Sleep disorders are more common among those living with mental illness
• Lack of sleep can worsen mental illness and make it more difficult to cope with symptoms
• It’s very likely that treatment for sleep disorders will alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders
• Those with mental health disorders often spend time in lighter, less restorative stages of sleep than deep, REM sleep, which is critical to health and healing


Author: Elizabeth Petty,