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Depression & Mental Health Blog
March 17, 2021
MHC @ DH
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Insomnia and Mental Illness

Amongst the many health complications from which those with mental illness suffer, insomnia is very common. In past, insomnia has been viewed only as a symptom of mental illness and other conditions – and this can certainly be the case – however, there is increasing evidence suggesting insomnia may actually be a contributing factor to the development of certain mental disorders. According to an article published in the Harvard Health Publications Journal, studies have revealed that sleep deprivation can raise the risk or contribute to the development of specific psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety. Additionally, these studies reveal that individuals who already struggle with some form of mental illness are at a higher risk of being negatively impacted by problems related to sleep.

Common Symptoms of Insomnia

One of the most important components in the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia is the ability to identify the symptoms of the condition. Insomnia is primarily characterized by difficulty falling asleep or waking up often at night. A person who is suffering from insomnia may take 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep after lying down for the night. Some who suffer from insomnia will struggle to reach any level of deep sleep as a part of their nightly sleep cycle. Some of the most common symptoms of insomnia are:
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking too early or waking up frequently during the night
  • Sleepiness and fatigue during the day
  • Tension headaches
  • Difficulty focusing
While many view insomnia as only an annoying inconvenience, the truth is that insomnia can be highly injurious, and even seemingly minor sleep deprivation can have significant results.

Anxiety as a Cause of Insomnia

There are a number of causes for insomnia and mental illness, but anxiety is one of the leading causes of interruptions to natural sleep cycles. Often, treatment involves exercises and therapies that are designed to reduce anxiety. Substance abuse can also be a cause of insomnia and mental illness more generally. Insomnia and mental illness may similarly increase the risk of substance-abuse. Either way, working with a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis, such as Destination Hope, often gets to the cause of the problem.

Insomnia and Suicide Risk

In extreme circumstances, experts have recognized the association between disturbed sleep and suicidal thoughts. In fact, at least three-quarters of clinically depressed people struggle with sleep, and insomnia is a well-proven risk element in suicide. Sleep disturbances can also increase the likelihood of nondepressed people becoming depressed. And while we still can’t explain the correlation, experts agree there is some influence. In fact, during mental disorder diagnosis, doctors often emphasize sleep patterns to diagnose depression. One study evaluated the degree of insomnia in a group of people who were diagnosed with clinical depression. The study found that the more severe the insomnia level was, the more likely they were to express suicidal desires or thoughts. Researchers also took into consideration two indicators: unhealthy beliefs about sleep and constant nightmares. The result indicated that those two factors do play a significant role in the correlation. Some experts believe the relationship between sleep disturbances and suicidal thoughts is because restless sleep fails to provide emotional respite – especially during times of stress. This impacts how people regulate moods, thereby inducing suicidal behaviors amongst other things. Of course, insomnia and suicidal thoughts vary widely depending on the person. Depression, as well as insomnia, is affected by so many factors, that pinpointing one cause is almost impossible. Each situation is different, and the fact that someone suffers from insomnia does not mean she or he will develop suicidal behaviors. On the flip side, someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts may not have a sleep problem. The gap between disturbed sleep and suicidal thoughts is getting smaller. Although experts cannot point at what underscores the relationship between insomnia and suicide, it is likely that they are related.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Insomnia can often arise as a response to stressful times. However, poor sleep habits can also lead to sleep deprivation and other conditions. Maintaining proper sleep habits can help control symptoms of insomnia and improve your overall health. Try to include these guidelines to help you turn around the potentially dangerous side of insomnia:
  • Set up a schedule to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day including weekends
  • Do not go to sleep unless you are sleepy
  • Eliminate caffeine, especially at bedtime
  • Cut down alcoholic beverages or tobacco
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eliminate electronic devices and TV at least an hour before bed
Develop relaxation methods to calm down before bedtime, practice healthy sleeping habits, and know when to seek help to conceive a restorative, healthy, restful sleep.

Treatment for Insomnia Can Include:

  • Mental Health Treatment and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Mindful Meditation
  • Herbal sleep aids and prescription medications
  • Exercise and Stretching
  • Improving Diet
Part of the program here at the Mental Health Center is to identify and treat the cause and/or consequences of insomnia using one or more of the treatments listed above. In treatment, it is important to identify and address all possible causes of mental illness. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and/or insomnia, reach out to us and enroll in our specialized programs.
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