Got Problems? Sleep on It!

Quality sleep is important for all aspects of health.

Reportedly, the Quakers were the ones who came up with the phrase, “Let’s sleep on it.”  A good night’s sleep is not just beneficial for making sound, good decisions for the next day, but for overall health physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Sleep is when the body repairs itself, regenerates important enzymes, undertakes protein synthesis, and rebuilds the immune system.  Without a good night’s sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity, anyone, with or without present mental illness will begin to eventually see cracks in the dam.  Neuroscientist Russell Foster, a TEDGlobal 2013 speaker and researcher on sleep, estimates that at least 30% of all problems that a clinician encounters when practicing general medicine (apart from mental health) is in some way related to the quality of the patient’s sleep.

Depression and Sleep

According to the Sleep Foundation, “patients with persistent and untreated insomnia are at between 2 and 10 times the risk for…episodes of major depression.”  Insomnia is also a potential risk factor for anxiety disorders as well as substance abuse.  Ever since the late 1800’s, mental health clinicians have known of the connection between mental illness and disrupted sleep patterns.  Currently, it is thought that irregular sleep patterns are not just a symptom of mental illness but is actually a contributor to mental illness.  If the initial treatment of a mental illness does not improve one’s sleep patterns, then it’s important to target sleep as a critical factor in improving the recovery from mental illness.

What exactly do we mean by having sleep patterns consisting of quality and quantity?  That means going to bed at the same time every night, regardless if it’s the weekend or not.  It’s also important for most adults to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  However, A small percentage of the population can get by on 4-5 hours a night as their biology is able to get in more efficient sleep in terms of having complete sleep cycles uninterrupted.  Typically, if you feel energetic and alert throughout the day, you’ve gotten enough sleep.  If you supplement your energy with caffeine throughout the day, you may be using that extra cup of coffee to mask a deeper problem.

Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to handle everyday stressors as well as having a negative effect on your ability to think creatively and problem-solve.  Other drawbacks of not getting enough sleep include decreased coordination, decision making, judgment, and motivation.  If you get sick regularly, one thing to consider as a root cause is getting a regular night’s sleep.  Mood instability and irritability can also be linked to not getting enough sleep.  If that weren’t enough, sleep is either directly or indirectly connected with overeating, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Look for our next post as a follow-up on what to do to increase your sleep quality and when to seek help from a doctor.