Sleep deprivation is serious business. One of the serious side effects that can result from prolonged sleep deprivation is a range of mental illness that can be hard to recover from. If you have a mental illness, sometimes the medication you take to treat the illness can cause sleep problems too. When you add sleep deprivation to already existing mental disorders and illnesses, you can not only complicate the existing illness, but you can create new ones as well. This is one of the reasons why how you sleep, how well you sleep and the consistency that your sleep patterns follow is so important in preventing mental illness, and recovering from them too.
What is sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation can take many forms. It can include all or some of the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Difficulty waking
- Inability to move through the brainwave states that indicate a healthy sleep pattern.
What many people don’t realize is that the effects of sleep deprivation on your mental and emotional health occur within just one night of an interrupted sleep pattern. A sleep pattern is the movement of the brain through different brainwave states (alpha, delta, theta and REM) that allows the brain to repair itself and rebalance its brain chemicals. While not much is really known about how the brain works science has proven that there is a specific order that the brain waves must be moved through in order to maintain good emotional, physical and mental health.
What are the psychological effects of sleep deprivation?
When you are sleep deprived the psychological effects are immediate. How quickly you experience the worst of the range of these effects will depend upon your current mental health, your physical health and the duration of your sleep deprivation. Most people who have a few nights interrupted sleep will find themselves more prone to stress and irritation. They may also experience a rise in anxiety levels. As sleep deprivation becomes longer, the psychological effects of sleep deprivation can become more severe. They can include:
- Elevated stress levels
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Psychotic breaks
- Major depressive episodes
- Manic or depressive cycles
- Increased irritability and/or explosive rage disorders
- Persecution disorders
All of these disorders have one thing in common that is why sleep deprivation can cause them to occur so easily – they have a very physical expression in the body that is found within the metabolic reaction to stress. Increased heart rates, increased body temperature, hormonal changes and blood sugar levels are all affected by physical stress. They are also affected by sleep deprivation as the brain’s mechanism for controlling the metabolism becomes erratic.
How serious is the effect of sleep deprivation on emotional and mental health?
While many of the psychological effects of sleep deprivation can be reduced or eliminated with the return to a normalized sleep pattern, some of the effects cannot be undone easily. Many of the panic, paranoia, delusion and anger issues that develop as a result of sleep deprivation will diminish with a corrected sleep pattern. Depression and anxiety can be more difficult to get under control as they involve a chemical change in the brain and body that may have been triggered by sleep deprivation, but have now taken on a life of their own in the body that won’t respond to a change in sleep habits.
Depression, Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation
Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with when addressing depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation is that the medications used to treat all three can also cause one of the other as a side effect. Many psychological medications for depression and anxiety can cause severe sleep disruptions, which means that sleep deprivation is unavoidable. This is why most people on medication for depression and anxiety are also prescribed a medication to help them sleep. If you can’t chemically induce a sleep pattern that is healthy, the resulting sleep deprivation from the treating medication is going to continue to promote depression and anxiety in the person. The result is a self-canceling cycle in which the person does not see improvement in their mental state despite taking medication for it.
How the physical reaction to the stress of sleep deprivation can make you ill
The physical reaction to the stress of sleep deprivation does more than make you mentally ill, it can make you physically ill as well. In the short term you will experience a lack of coordination, eye to hand coordination and reflex ability due to a lack of muscle control. In the long term, sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes. All of these chronic conditions can complicate your psychological state as well. This is why your doctor may express great concern if you report that you are beginning to fall out of the habit of sleeping well.
What should you do?
The most important thing for you to do if you are beginning to experience sleep deprivation is to work to get back on a normal pattern of sleep. To do this you need to identify why the disruption is occurring. This may prove to be a change in diet, stress levels, physical illness or a change in the location of where you are sleeping. Something as simple as having too much light in your bedroom or starting to watch a new television drama before you go to bed can be enough to trigger a disrupted sleep pattern.
Not keeping to a consistent sleep schedule with a regular bed time and waking time will also cause you to fall out of the habit of healthy sleep. If making changes to your lifestyle habits does not help, you need to speak with your doctor to try and find a way to help get you back on a good sleep schedule. They may start you with some of the all-natural supplements or herbal supplements that have proven effective before trying you on a prescription medication.