The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Illness
Thu, April 22, 2021

The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Illness

Achieving eight hours of sleep or more seems so easy to do. But in a fast-paced world, sleeping for even just four to five hours is a luxury some of us cannot afford. The average hours of sleep that people get nowadays is only 6.8, which is significantly lower compared to 1942, when eight hours of sleep was the norm.

A study by Sleep Cycle that was participated in by 48 countries revealed that not a single nation manages to achieve an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, when we consider that the minimum of hours to sleep is seven, there are some countries that fit into the criteria. This includes New Zealand (7 hours and 30 minutes), the Netherlands (7 hours and 28 minutes), Finland (7 hours and 26 minutes), Great Britain (7 hours and 24 minutes), and Ireland (7 hours and 22 minutes). 

On the other hand, the countries that usually achieve the lowest hours of sleep include Japan (5 hours and 59 minutes), Saudi Arabia (6 hours and 8 minutes), Sweden (6 hours and 10 minutes), India (6 hours and 20 minutes), and the Philippines (6 hours and 22 minutes). While it might be concluded that spending less time asleep could mean that these countries are overall more productive, studies show otherwise. They are more likely to get tired because of a lack of sleep, limiting the tasks or work that they can do. 

“Populations are at greater risk for a number of chronic diseases and mental health disorders, as well as challenges to daily life and relationships. These are dangerous and expensive problems,” clinical psychologist Dr. Michael J. Brues warned. 

Thus, thousands of people worldwide are facing numerous sleep problems. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick revealed that 16.6% of the population both in Africa and Asia reported having insomnia and other severe sleep disturbances. According to Futurity, a nonprofit website that aggregates news articles about scientific research, the researcher looked into the sleep quality of 24,434 women and 19,501 men aged 50 years and over in eight locations in rural populations in Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and an urban area in Kenya.

The researchers discovered that there’s a strong link between psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety and sleep problems. There are also potential links between sleep problems and social demographics, quality of life, physical health, and psychiatric conditions. Saverio Stranges, the leading author of the paper, stated that the study revealed that the levels of sleep problems in the developing countries are far higher than previously thought.

“This is particularly concerning as many low-income countries are facing a double burden of disease with pressure on scarce financial resources coming from infectious diseases like HIV, but also from a growing rate of chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases and cancer,” Stranges said. 

Understanding Insomnia

Some people are not aware that they have insomnia. They think that having difficulty sleeping or still feeling tired after a night’s sleep is just normal. The impacts of this sleep disorder can be devastating, affecting millions of people across the world. Previous studies revealed that the prevalence of insomnia is about 10% to 30% of the population, some even as high as 50% to 60%. Insomnia is common in older adults, females, and people with medical and mental illnesses.

According to Medical News Today, one of the fastest-growing health information sites in the US, insomnia is caused by physical and psychological factors. This includes disruptions in circadian rhythm such as job shift changes, jet lag, high altitudes, extreme heat or cold, and environmental noise. It can also be caused by psychological issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and many more. 

There are also several signs and symptoms that can be associated with insomnia, including waking earlier than desired; daytime fatigue or sleepiness; irritability, depression, or anxiety; poor concentration and focus, and having difficulty socializing. 

Insomnia and Mental Illness Go Hand in Hand

When you experience chronic disruptions to your sleeping patterns that you can't control, there’s a high chance you’re suffering from a mental illness. Changes in natural sleep patterns can lead to several types of sleep disorders. Previous studies have shown that sleep disorders are highly likely to appear in several forms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more. 

According to Science Alert, a leading scientific publisher dedicated to publishing peer-reviewed significant research work, the link between insomnia and mental illness is bidirectional. Statistics show that 90% of adults with depression experience sleep problems, while 50% of adults with insomnia have a mental problem. At the same time, it is also associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation, inflammation, heart disease, breathing problems, hypertension, and chronic pain. 

Dr. Charles L. Raison, MD, professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that there are a yin and yang in the body between systems that promote sleep and systems that promote wakefulness. “Sleep is the king of both psychological well-being and psychological dismay. It is at the back of so many things,” he said. 

A 2019 study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that most teens who seek insomnia treatment have underlying mental health issues. Nearly 75% of teen patients seeking treatment for insomnia also suffer from an underlying, diagnosed mental health condition. “These rates were surprisingly high, even when we accounted for the fact that some insomnia and mental health symptoms overlap,” lead author Tori Van Dyk, Ph.D., MA, assistant professor at Loma Linda University, said. 

According to the Loma Linda University Health, the researchers used data from 376 adolescents, ages 11 to 18 years, seeking treatment for insomnia. The findings proved that medical professionals can’t treat sleep problems without considering the role of mental health. In treating insomnia, Dr. Raison stated that behavioral interventions should be at the core of the treatment. This includes stimulus control, sleep restriction, and adjunctive sleep hygiene education. 

Thus, people must be informed that having difficulty sleeping may not be normal. It’s best that they seek professional help and aim for longer hours of sleep. Their mental health status should also be considered during these times.