Compelling research shows a bidirectional association between sleep disorders and mental health. Sleep disorders impact an individual’s mental well-being, exacerbating the symptoms of various mental health conditions and impairing overall cognitive function.

On the other hand, mental health conditions, like mood disorders, often coexist with sleep disturbances, leading to a vicious cycle where sleep disruption worsens mental health symptoms and vice versa.

How Mental Conditions Interfere with the Sleep Cycle

Sleep disturbances almost always accompany mild and severe forms of mental disorders. The circadian rhythm regulates the human sleep-wake cycle under the influence of hormones like melatonin, cortisol, and growth hormone, which affect mood, stress response, energy levels, and overall physiological functioning. Mental conditions affect the hormones’ production, regulation, and functioning, contributing to the onset or aggravation of sleep disorders. 

Other mental disorder symptoms also cause or worsen sleep disorders. For instance,

  • Anxiety and depression cause racing thoughts, worry, and excessive rumination, making falling or staying asleep throughout the night challenging.
  • Unrestful slumber because of excessive worry and fear causes excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged sleep, known as hypersomnia.
  • PTSD and other trauma-related disorders can cause vivid and distressing nightmares, leading to disrupted sleep and frequent awakenings during the night. Fear and anxiety associated with night terrors can further contribute to sleep disturbances.
  • Anticipatory anxiety, from mood disorders, makes relaxing and falling asleep difficult, resulting in insomnia.
  • Restless legs syndrome, a condition characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs creating an irresistible urge to move them is prevalent in people with mental disorders and can disrupt sleep onset and quality.

How Sleep Disorders Cause or Worsen Mental Disorders

Disrupted Neurotransmitter Balance

Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain that control mood, emotions, and cognitive function. Sleep disorders disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The resulting imbalance triggers or worsens mood disorders.

Impaired Cognitive Functioning

Chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality impairs cognitive function, intensifying mental disorder symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Consequences of reduced quality and quantity of sleep include memory problems, challenges with concentration and decision-making, decreased attention span and decreased problem-solving abilities.

Increased Emotional Reactivity

Inadequate sleep can lead to heightened emotional reactivity and decreased emotional regulation. Individuals with sleep disorders often experience increased irritability, mood swings, and emotional instability, which triggers or worsens mental health conditions. Emotional dysregulation can also hinder effective coping mechanisms and increase vulnerability to stress and anxiety.

Hormonal Imbalance

Sleep disturbances affect the production of hormones that regulate mood, causing or aggravating mood disorders.

Altered Brain Structure and Function

Chronic sleep disturbances can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain by impacting the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, brain areas involved in emotional regulation, memory processing, and cognitive function.

Reduced Resilience and Coping Mechanisms

Quality sleep is essential for restoring energy, promoting resilience, and enhancing coping mechanisms. Sleep disorders can disrupt these processes, leaving individuals more susceptible to stress, less able to cope with challenging situations, and more prone to experiencing mental health difficulties.

Find Relief For Your Sleep Disorder and Improve Your Mental Health

You can improve your mental health by treating sleep disorders or managing sleep disruptions. At Sleep Dynamics, we have the resources to help you improve your sleep quality. Call us today at 732-963-1689 or fill out an online form.