INTRO: About 62% of adults worldwide feel that they don’t get enough sleep. Inadequate sleep has severe repercussions on mental health, ranging from lack of focus, laziness, fatigue and stress to diabetes, hypertension and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Here is an article on the connection between sleep deprivation and mental health, to help you understand how essential it is to sleep enough.

A Sleep Experiment

The longest time spent by a human awake is by Randy Gardner: 11 days and 25 minutes. He reported severe cognitive and behavioural changes; including moodiness, increased reaction time, lack of focus, short term memory loss, paranoia and hallucinations. 

On the eleventh day, as a part of a study, he was asked to subtract 7 repeatedly from 100. He abruptly stopped at 65. He reported that he had forgotten what he was doing. Even decades after this experiment, Gardner experienced severe insomnia. 

Daily Life and Sleep

How Sleep Affects Mental Health

While the sleep deprivation we observe in day-to-day life is much less potent, it is generally spread over quite a long time, sometimes even years. Whether due to a hectic job, stressful schooling, or simply an irregular sleep schedule; sleep deprivation can have severe and sometimes irreversible effects on your mental health besides hampering your body’s circadian rhythm. The repercussions can be in the form of hormonal imbalance, illness and, in extreme cases, death. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night for a long time increases the risk of strokes by 450%. For example, in 2014, a soccer fan died from a stroke after staying awake for 48 hours to watch the World Cup.

How do we sleep?

The bare necessary sleep duration required is 7-8 hours for an adult and about 10 hours for a teenager. The feeling of sleepiness emerges from our body, telling our brain that we are tired. Sleep-inducing chemicals like adenosine gradually build sleepiness throughout the day and melatonin produces drowsiness and signals the body to sleep. Our muscles relax, and we “sleep”. Meanwhile, our DNA repairs and our bodies refresh. Cortisol concludes sleep and naturally triggers us to wake up.

While we are awake, neural and muscular activity causes accumulation of adenosine, leading to sleepiness or “sleep pressure”. The very reason caffeine reduces this “sleep pressure” is that it blocks adenosine’s receptor pathways. 

The lymphatic system is responsible for flushing away this buildup, and it is much more active while we are asleep. Hence, sleeping is quintessential for our body to cleanse itself and prepare for the day ahead.

Consequences of sleep deprivation

If you don’t sleep enough, toxic wastes accumulate in the brain and other body parts. Besides adenosine, tau proteins clog up, which in turn cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration.

Fighting Depression by Staying Awake - Scientific American

Sleep deprivation only amplifies and is amplified by causes and is caused by mental health illnesses. It links to depression, weak immunity, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, inflammation and obesity. It can also exacerbate the effects of anxiety and bipolar disorder, among other mental health problems. Emotionally, it causes stress, frustration, mood swings, lack of vigour; and is also associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Besides sleeping for adequate time, it is also essential to sleep in darkness, which induces melatonin production, which plays a vital role in protecting against cancer.

Quick Facts:

  1. About 62% of adults worldwide feel that they don’t get enough sleep.
  2. On average, on a weeknight, a person gets 6.8 hours of sleep.
  3. Researchers have found that disruption of the normal sleep cycle is followed by a manic episode of bipolar disorder in 69% to 99% of patients.
  4. 25%-55% of children with ADHD experience sleep disturbances.
  5. In a study of approximately 1,000 adults aged 21 to 30 years, it was found those who reported a history of insomnia in 1989 were four times more likely to develop major depression by 1992 when they were interviewed again.
  6. Sleep problems precede depression in 69% of the cases.
  7. Drowsiness plays a significant role in roughly 100,000 car accidents annually, causing approximately 1,500 just from car accidents.

Solutions:

  1. Lifestyle changes like avoiding stimulants and sleep-interrupters, e.g. caffeine, soda, nicotine, alcohol.
  2. Do not nap too much during the day, ideally 20-30 minutes.
  3. On the bed, avoid activities other than sleeping, e.g. eating, watching TV or using electronics.
  4. Set limits beyond which you quit using devices.
  5. Exercise regularly.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Deep breathing exercises.
  8. Progressive muscle relaxation.

Written by: Rushil Patel


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