Sleep Problems and Psych Disorders: The Relationship

Research has found that sleep problems which used to be viewed as a symptom of mental health disruption may actually be a contributing factor for psychiatric disorders. Studies at Harvard Medical School confirm that sleep problems affect between 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population; the percentage of adult patients seen in psychiatric practices with chronic sleep issues jumps to 80%.

Sleep Problems Point to Increased Risk for Psychiatric Disorders

Patients with a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD commonly report being plagued with sleep problems. While sleep dysfunction was once viewed as a symptom, clinical data supports the hypothesis that adult sleep problems raise the risk for developing a psychiatric disorder. In long term studies it was found that adults who reported a history of insomnia were four times as likely to develop major depression on re-evaluation three years later, indicating the sleep disruptions developed before the mental health disorder.

Sleep Problems versus use of Antipsychotics

Sleep issues and insomnia began to be more closely looked at in the 1970’s. The sleep problems were thought to be directly tied to use of antipsychotics at the time; however, data indicates a long history of sleep disturbance complaints long before use of antipsychotics began. Today it is more widely believed that chronic sleep problems puts one more at risk for the development of psychiatric issues and that treating the sleep disorder can actually assist in alleviating symptoms of a co-occurring mental health problem.

Sleep Disorders in Psychiatric Patients

Of the more than 70 types of sleep disorders the most common problems are insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, unpleasant sleep movement syndromes and narcolepsy. The University of Brazil Medical School reports the type and impact of the sleep problems vary by the psychiatric diagnosis with examples noted below:

  • Up to 90% of adults with major depression experience a sleep problem
  • One-in-five adults with depression suffer from obstructive sleep apnea
  • Depressed adults with insomnia less likely to respond to treatment, at a higher risk for relapse and are more likely to die by suicide
  • Up to 99% of adults with bipolar disorder experience insomnia or restless sleep
  • In adults with bipolar depression up to 78% sleep in excessive amounts
  • More than 50% of adults with anxiety disorders have dysfunctional sleep patterns
  • Sleep problems precede anxiety disorders 27% of the time
  • Sleep dysfunction precedes depression 69% of the time
  • 68% of adults with PTSD report sleeping problems
  • Long term studies indicate that insomnia or other sleep disruptions worsen before a manic episode or bipolar depression

Sleep and mental health are interconnected though not yet completely understood. Neurochemistry studies do indicate that having a good night’s sleep promotes a healthier outlook, while chronic sleep problems can set up an arena for negative thought processes and emotional vulnerability. Call the office for a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Hege who will work with you to get your sleep patterns and mental health issues back into functional ranges.

About Darvin Hege

Dr. Darvin Hege, MD, PC, is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He is an Emory Hospital residency trained psychiatrist who has been practicing psychiatry for more than 25 years. He maintains over 50 hours of AMA certified education each year to stay informed of advances in psychiatry.

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