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As anyone who has ever suffered with mental health problems such as depression or anorexia nervosa will know, sleep is something that seems to either be unobtainable or unavoidable. Many other forms of mental health conditions also affect sleep quality and quantity, which is why insomnia often has a mental cause.
How Depression Affects Sleep
One of the worst things about severe clinical depression is feeling absolutely mentally and physically exhausted, yet lying awake night after night watching the clock. While some depression sufferers find all they want to do is sleep and are able to sleep during the day as well as at night, many depressed people either can’t get to sleep or wake at around 3am, finding it impossible to get back to sleep. Thankfully, as depression starts to lift, sleeping patterns will also begin to normalise, while antidepressants can help correct a serotonin imbalance which may be underlying depression-related insomnia.
In Sleep Disorders, Wilson & Nutt highlight that as much as 75% of depression sufferers are affected by insomnia. Around 10% of those suffering from depression may be diagnosed with hypersomnia.
Why Anorexia Nervosa Causes Sleep Problems
Another mental health condition which is linked to sleep problems is the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, affecting about 1% of the general population. This is largely due to the fact that most anorexia sufferers fail to obtain sufficient calories for the body and mind to function normally. Many anorexics feel very tired but refuse to let their body rest as a means of remaining in control. Some anorexia patients will find that during the initial stages of the re-feeding process the body becomes fatigued as the mind is attempting to cope with the mental battle of weight gain in recovery.
How Anxiety Disorders Affect Sleep
Anxiety disorders also wreak havoc with sleeping patterns, with insomnia believed to affect around one third of those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. This is particularly common in those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, following sexual assault it is likely that the victim will have great difficult getting to sleep. Nightmares and night-time panic attacks make getting sufficient sleep extremely difficult.
Depression, anorexia and anxiety sufferers may benefit from a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as relaxation techniques. Working through the underlying causes of insomnia and other sleeping problems is key to recovery. Self-help coping strategies for sleep disorders include dietary changes, reducing caffeine intake, meditation and using a light-box on winter mornings.