Americans are Sleep Derived!

Sleep Hygiene: The Importance of Sleep and Mental Health

This is National Sleep Awareness Week. Sleep Deprivation, A problem most Americans can relate to. Sleep problems have become a major concern within the medical and mental health communities: It is estimated around 40 million people per year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleep issues. Depression, anxiety, memory issues, heart disease, and cancer can often be traced back to sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits.  It’s no wonder that sleep issues account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year. That doesn’t even include indirect costs due to lost productivity.

You know that drowsy or zoned out feeling you get while sitting at your desk at work, or in class where you are doing everything you can to keep your head from hitting your computer keyboard?  If so, then you are already aware of the importance of a good night’s sleep. What you might not know; however, is that sleep isn’t just important for helping you get through those dreaded Monday mornings, but it’s essential for your mental health too. Below is a list of how sleep deprivation affects Americans in everyday life and also how it can cause larger problems for those who suffer with mental health problems.

  1. Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to think clearly:

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – the deepest stage of the sleep cycle, stimulates the brain regions used in learning. One study shows that REM sleep affects the learning of certain skills. Those involved in the study were taught a skill and then deprived of REM sleep resulting in lack of recall of what they had learned. Conversely, those that had full REM sleep easily recalled what they had learned. Essentially, when deep sleep is disrupted, it wreaks havoc on our brains and impairs our ability to think clearly and remember things.

  1. Driver fatigue can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated:

Driver fatigue is responsible for about 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Sleep deprivation is not only bad for your mind and body, but in some cases, can also endanger the lives of others. One study that tested people using a driving simulator showed that sleep-deprived people who drove as badly as, or worse, than someone who is intoxicated. Lack of sleep also magnifies the effects of alcohol on the body, so a drowsy person who drinks will be even further impaired than a well-rested person who drinks.

  1. Doctors have described more than 70 different types of sleep disorders:

The most common sleep disorders are: insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), sleep apnea (obstructed breathing that causes multiple awakenings), restless leg syndrome (prompts night fidgeting and impairs quality of sleep), and narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly during the day).

  1. Sleep concerns may be more likely to affect those with existing mental health conditions:

It used to be believed that sleep problems were thought of as just symptoms of mental health conditions, but now research tells us they may contribute to or may be a cause of them. This also means that treating the sleep disorder may help alleviate the symptoms associated with a mental health condition and vice versa. It is worth noting that chronic sleep problems affect about 50 to 80 percent of those with psychiatric conditions and 10 to 18 percent of adults in the general U.S. population.

  1. There are many symptoms associated with sleep deprivation:

Sleep medicine experts say that if you consistently feel drowsy during the day or experience microsleeps, then you may have severe sleep deprivation or even a sleep disorder. (Microsleep is a fleeting, uncontrollable, brief episode of sleep which can last anywhere from a single fraction of a second up to 10 full seconds. These episodes of microsleep occur most frequently when a sleepy person s trying to fight sleep and stay awake.) Other signs of deficits in sleep are: constant tiredness, habitually using caffeine to get through the day, not waking up refreshed, memory problems, waking up too early and difficulty falling or staying asleep, and drowsiness while driving or during mundane activities like watching TV.

  1. Trouble sleeping is a symptom of depression:

Research has estimated that 65 to 90 percent of adults (and about 90 percent of children) with clinical depression experience some form of sleep concerns. The most common sleep concern is insomnia, but 1 in 5 suffer from sleep apnea. Hypersomnia (excessive tiredness during the day) is also common among people with depression. Sleep problems are not only a symptom of depression, but also a contributor to it.

  1. Anxiety and sleep concerns are frequently present together:

Studies show that 50% of adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are effected with sleep disorders. Also those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and phobic disorders are affected by some form of sleep problems. Anxiety also contributes to disrupted sleep, often in the form of insomnia or nightmares. Sleep deprivation also elevates the risk for anxiety disorders.

  1. Sleep concerns are associated with ADHD in both children and adults:

Various sleep problems affect 25 to 50 percent of children with ADHD. The more common conditions are daytime tiredness and sleep-disordered breathing. For adults with ADHD, the typical issues are difficulty falling asleep, shorter sleep duration and restless slumber. For both children and adults, the symptoms of ADHD and sleep problems overlap so much that it may be difficult to tell them apart.

  1. Treatment for insomnia isn’t as simple as curing it with prescription sleep aids:

While doctors usually prescribe sleeping pills for short-term insomnia, long-term use can lower the pills’ effectiveness. If you are experiencing sleep concerns and would like to explore a drug-free, non-invasive option, neurofeedback may be an alternative worth exploring.

How are Sleep Disorders Diagnosed                                                                                                            Your doctor will first perform a physical exam and gather information about your symptoms and medical history. They will also order various tests, including:

  • Polysomnography; a sleep study that evaluates oxygen levels, body movements, and brain waves to determine how they disrupt sleep.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG); a test that assesses electrical activity in the brain and detects any potential problems associated with this activity,
  • Genetic Blood Testing: a blood test commonly used to diagnose narcolepsy and other underlying health conditions that might be causing sleeping problems.

These tests can be crucial in determining the right course of treatment for sleep disorders.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to breathe. Your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.

In many cases, an apnea, or temporary pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back. This narrows the airway, which reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in back of the throat vibrate as you breathe.

Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.

The lack of oxygen your body receives can have negative long-term consequences for your health. This includes:

There are many people with sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed or received treatment. A sleep medicine physician can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or a home sleep apnea test. Sleep apnea is manageable using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, the front-line treatment for sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy or surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea in adults is considered a sleep-related breathing disorder. Causes and symptoms differ for obstructive sleep apnea in children and central sleep apnea.


Sleep quality may improve with good bedtime habits:                                                                            Some tips to combat poor sleep are:

  • Since our bodies crave consistency, it is best to follow a regular bedtime and wake up time.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime.
  • Exercise during the day, as well as get regular exposure to natural light.
  • Meditation, sitting quietly, and praying are activities that can be very helpful right before you go to sleep as they help still the mind and relax body.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep (not for work or using electronics, so that your brain doesn’t associate your bed as a place of busy activity).
  • Limit your use to electronic devices such as cell phones, computer/ laptops, tablets. At least to half of an hour or full hour before you close the light to go to sleep.
  • Find ways to turn your brain off and relax your body before going to bed.
  • Make sure your room temperature is right for you.

Allowing yourself to get a good amount of shut-eye on a regular basis not only restores your body, but your mind too.  The power of sleep and its relationship with your mental well-being is more vital than ever in today’s busy, restless culture. Understanding how one affects the other not only helps in getting the most accurate diagnoses, but also aids in improved treatments for both conditions.

Rest was even important to Jesus in his earthly ministry. Jesus knew the importance of sleep and setting boundaries around his time. Mark 4:35-40 states:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I can’t help but think that as Godly, wise, and practical as Jesus was after rebuking the storm he laid back down went back to sleep.  If even Jesus needed to stop and rest in the midst of a chaotic world, with all of the important things He had to do, don’t you think we need rest, too? I think we need to follow His example and set boundaries on our time and get the restful sleep we need.

Education and awareness are essentials in understanding mental health and the importance of rest.  If you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of a sleep disorder or a mental condition, encourage them to seek help.

Jim Katsoudas