How Sleep Affects Your Mood: The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Health

It started with mild anxiety.

Emily, who asked to be identified only by her first name because she was talking about her mental health, had just moved to New York City after graduating to start a marketing job at a large law firm.

She knew it was normal to feel a little nervous. But she wasn’t prepared for what came next: chronic insomnia.

With only three or four hours of sleep, it didn’t take long for her anxiety to increase: at 25, she was “very nervous all the time. A disaster.”

When a lawyer at her firm yelled at her one day, she experienced the first of many panic attacks. At a doctor’s suggestion, she tried taking a sleeping pill, hoping that it could “reset” her sleep cycle and improve her mood. It didn’t work.

Americans are chronically sleep deprived: one third of adults In the United States they say they sleep less than 7 hours a night. Teenagers Fare Even Worse: About 70 percent of high school students do not get enough sleep during school nights.

And it’s having a profound effect on mental health.

An analysis of 19 studies found that while sleep deprivation worsened a person’s ability to think clearly or perform certain tasks, it had a greater negative effect on mood. And when the National Sleep Foundation conducted a study survey In 2022, half of those who said they slept less than 7 hours each weekday also reported having depressive symptoms. Some research even indicates that addressing insomnia can help prevent postpartum depression and anxiety.

It is clear that sleep is important. But despite the evidence, there is continue being to shortage of psychiatrists either other doctors trained in sleep medicine, leaving many with the task of educating themselves.

So what happens to our mental health if we don’t get enough sleep and what can be done about it?

When people have trouble sleeping, it changes the way they experience stress and negative emotions, said Aric Prather, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who treats patients with insomnia. “And for some, this can have a feedback effect: feeling bad, ruminating, feeling stressed can bleed our nights,” he said.

Carly Demler, 40, a homemaker in North Carolina, said it was to bed one night and never fell asleep. From then on, he would get up at least once a week until 3 or 4 in the morning. This continued for more than a year.

She became irritable, less patient, and much more anxious.

Hormonal blood tests and a sleep study at a university lab offered no answers. Even after taking Ambien, she stayed awake most of the night. “It was like my anxiety was a fire that somehow jumped over the fence and ended up spreading into my nights,” she said. “I just felt like I had no control.”

In the end, it was cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, that provided Demler the most relief. Studies have discovered that CBT-I. It is more effective than sleep medications in the long term: Up to 80 percent of people who try it see improvements in their sleep.

Demler learned not to “stay in bed and go crazy.” Instead, she gets up and reads so as not to associate her bedroom with anxiety and then returns to bed when she is tired.

“I think the feeling of gratitude I have every morning when I wake up and feel well-rested will never go away,” she said. “That’s been an unexpected silver lining.”

Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, depending on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teenagers and young children need even more.

It’s not just about quantity. He quality of your sleep It is also important. If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, for example, or if you routinely wake up in the middle of the night, it will be harder to feel rested, regardless of the number of hours you spend in bed.

But some people “have a tendency to think they are functioning well even if they are sleepy during the day or have a harder time concentrating,” said Lynn Bufka, a clinical psychologist and spokesperson for the American Psychological Association.

Ask yourself how you feel during the day: do you feel more impatient or more likely to get angry? Do you have more negative thoughts or feel more anxious or depressed? Do you find it more difficult to cope with stress? Do you find it difficult to do your work efficiently?

If so, it’s time to act.

We’ve all heard how important it is to practice good sleep hygiene, employing daily habits that promote healthy sleep. And it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out any physical problems that need to be addressed, such as a thyroid disorder or restless legs syndrome.

But this is only part of the solution.

Conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder can make it difficult to sleep, which can then exacerbate symptoms of mental illness, which in turn makes it difficult to sleep well.

“It becomes very difficult to break the cycle,” Dr. Bufka said.

Certain medications, including psychiatric medications such as antidepressants, can also cause insomnia. If the culprit is one medication, talk to your doctor about switching to another, taking it earlier in the day or reducing the dose, said Dr. Ramaswamy Viswanathan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the State University of New York Downstate. Health. Sciences University and the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association.

The cycle can also affect those without mental health disorders, when worries worsen sleep and lack of sleep worsens mood.

Emily, who worked at a large law firm, worried so much about her inability to sleep that she didn’t even want to go to bed.

“You really start to believe ‘I’m never going to sleep,’” he said. “The adrenaline is so high that it is not possible to do it.”

Finally he came across “Say Goodnight to Insomnia” by Gregg D. Jacobs. The book, which uses CBT-I. techniques, helped Emily reframe the way she thinks about sleep. She began writing down her negative thoughts in a journal and then changed them to positive ones. For example: “What if I can never fall asleep again?” would become “Your body is made for sleeping.” If you don’t get enough rest one night, eventually you will.” These exercises helped her stop being catastrophic.

Once he started sleeping again, he felt “much happier.”

Now, at 43, almost 20 years after moving to New York, he still relies on the techniques he learned and carries the book whenever he travels. If she doesn’t sleep well away from home, “if necessary, I’ll catch up on sleep for a few days,” she says. “I’m much more relaxed about it.”