Boston, MA (Vocus) July 8, 2009
Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of the patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general population. Doctors have traditionally viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms of depression and other mental health problems. But recent studies suggest that sleep problems may raise risk for, and even contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders. That means treating a sleep disorder may also reduce symptoms of a mental health problem, reports the July 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
The type of sleep disorder and its impact on mental health vary by psychiatric diagnosis. But the overlap between sleep and psychiatric disorders is so great that researchers have long suspected both types of problems may have common biological roots. Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that sleep disruption affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, many of which are implicated in depression and other psychiatric disorders. In addition to impairing thinking and emotional regulation, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa.
Depression: An estimated 65% to 90% of adults with major depression experience some kind of sleep problem. Sleep problems also increase the risk for developing depression.
Bipolar disorder: During a manic episode, 70% or more of individuals experience insomnia or report less need for sleep. Studies suggest that insomnia and other sleep problems worsen before an episode of mania.
Anxiety disorders: Sleep problems affect more than half of individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. Insomnia may also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, and can worsen symptoms or prevent recovery.
Read the full-length article: "Sleep and mental health"
Also in this issue:
- Rethinking fearful memories to treat anxiety
- Fibromyalgia and mental health
- Alcohol abuse and depression
- Lithium to ward off dementia in bipolar patients
- The brain basis of schadenfreude
The Harvard Mental Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $59 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/mental or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
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