It’s no secret that we live in a fast-paced and demanding world. Between academic obligations, career building, peer pressure, social media and the worldwide web, it’s no wonder that many of us do not consistently get high-quality sleep. In fact, only 1 in 10 people globally report sleeping “extremely well,” according to a 2019 survey. While little sleep, lack of sleep, or interrupted sleep is the norm in modern society, it has implications. A new study, published in July 2022, found that there is a strong connection between sleep deprivation and mental health.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that circadian rhythm disruption (CRD) is an underlying biological factor shared by most mental health disorders. In other words, people who struggle with sleep disruption also and often struggle with mental illnesses, such as anxiety and ADHD.
What is Circadian Rhythm Disruption, Exactly?
Circadian rhythm is a person’s internal, 24-hour clock that helps to regulate physiological activity based on their wake and sleep cycle. Circadian rhythms also control a person’s hormone production and release, body temperature, digestion, memory consolidation, and more. Therefore, these rhythms are essential to living and timekeeping. However, they can be easily disrupted by changes in sleeping patterns. This is known as circadian rhythm disruption (CRD).
Circadian rhythm disruption happens when there is a disturbance or interruption in one’s regular sleep cycle. Common causes of CRD are chronic stress, hormonal changes, travel and jet lag, blue light exposure, substance use, and mental health problems.
According to this latest research, circadian rhythm disruption is prevalent in all mental health disorders. And, when it takes place earlier in life, CRD can affect neurodevelopment and trigger age-related mental health disorders later on. This means sleep regulation during the younger years, and especially in the developmental adolescent years, can be key to stronger mental health down the road.
What is the Relationship Between Sleep Disruption and Mental Health?
Sleep disorders and circadian rhythm disruption are very common characteristics of a mental health disorder. Whether anxiety or bipolar disorder, autism or ADHD, schizophrenia or depression, problems with sleep frequently co-exist with mental illness.
The relationship between sleep and mental health can take on several forms, including:
- Sleep problems are caused by an existing mental health disorder
- Sleep disorders are a cause of some mental health conditions
- Sleep issues are a sign of an impending mental health problem
- Poor sleep significantly worsens the symptoms of mental illness
So, why is there a connection between mental health and sleep deprivation?
On one hand, mental health disorders can disrupt sleep due to overwhelming emotions that cause insomnia. For example, constant anxieties, fears, or feelings of sadness can keep a person awake at night. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 50 percent of insomnia cases are directly related to depression, anxiety, or psychological stress. They state, “Insomnia is rarely an isolated medical or mental illness but rather a symptom of another illness to be investigated by a person and their medical doctors.”
Sleep deprivation can also trigger mental health problems. As explained by Sleepfoundation.org, “It is becoming clear that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health in which sleeping problems may be both a cause and consequence of mental health problems.”
This is because sufficient sleep is needed to facilitate the brain’s processing of emotional information. When a person lacks sleep, the brain cannot fully consolidate emotional content and memories. This can lead to mood and emotional reactivity, which is tied to mental health disorders and their severity. This can also lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Mental Health and Sleep Statistics
One study cited by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that:
- People who average 6 hours or less of sleep per night are about 2.5 times more likely to have frequent mental distress.
The Harvard Medical School also reported that:
- Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.
Regarding specific mental illnesses, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center cites that:
- Those with insomnia are twice as likely to develop depression as people who don’t have sleep disorders.
- Sleep disruption is present in up to 80 percent of people with schizophrenia.
- Up to 90 percent of people with bipolar disorder have some type of sleep disturbance or insomnia before a manic episode.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
- Among college students, every night of insufficient sleep increases the risk of mental health symptoms increased by more than 20 percent, on average.
Who is at Risk, and What Can You Do About It?
Anyone who is experiencing sleep deprivation is at risk of developing a mental health condition. Similarly, those experiencing mental health issues are at increased risk of sleep disorders.
However, those who are young and still in a period of development can be seen as more vulnerable. The brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, and most mental illnesses begin to emerge by this time. Therefore, any disruptions in health, wellness, and sleep patterns during this period can put a person more at risk for issues like anxiety, depression, and more.
If you are a parent of a teenager or college student, pay close attention to your child’s sleeping habits if you can. Talk to your child about the importance of getting good sleep, and have open conversations if your child is struggling to sleep. Let your teen know about the dangers of sleep deprivation.
How much sleep should your child be getting, exactly? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that:
- Young adults over 18 years old should be sleeping at least 7 hours a night, on a regular basis.
- Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 years old should sleep between 8 to 10 hours a night.
- Children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old should regularly sleep 9 to 12 hours in a 24-hour period.
You can promote this type of sleep by encouraging a consistent sleep schedule and meal schedule, ensuring that there is regularity in your child’s circadian rhythm. Further, you can also limit technology exposure in the evenings, as that can cause disruptions in a person’s sleep.
If you are concerned that your teen or young adult is facing a mental health problem, do not hesitate to reach out for professional support. Your teen may be having trouble sleeping due to a mental illness, and may require professional therapy and support. You may always call Turnbridge for guidance. Turnbridge is a leading young adult and adolescent mental health treatment center, with programs dedicated to helping youth recover and step into healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.
Call 877-581-1793 to learn more, or explore our programs online today.