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January 5, 2012

Insomnia and Mental Illness

For people with a mental illness, be it depression, schizophrenia, anxiety or bipolar disorder, living a healthy, normal life is already challenging. Throw in insomnia and it can be downright impossible! Unfortunately, as many as 80-percent of patients with major depression, 77-percent of people with bipolar disorder, and 70-percent of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, also report sleep problems. In cases like this, where a mental illness is already diagnosed, insomnia is usually considered a symptom of the pre-existing condition. This makes sense, as the persistent anxious, depressed, hysterical, and confused thoughts shrouding a mental illness can make it impossible to sleep. But new evidence suggests insomnia may, over time, be a cause of mental illness. In a University of Berkley study, patients were shown a set of disturbing images after 36 hours without sleep. Afterwards, these individuals displayed 60-percent more activity in the brain's emotional center than did the normal, rested group. People who were sleep-deprived had significantly more trouble controlling their emotional responses! Here's the good news: treating a mental illness effectively will often take care of insomnia, too. With few exceptions, this means regular episodes of talk therapy, and some form of prescription medication aimed at the mental illness in question. It's important to note that some meds, like the antidepressant Wellbutrin, may have side effects that cause insomnia. Some doctors will treat insomnia and psychiatric conditions simultaneously. Insomnia medications include Ambien, Rozerem, and Lunesta. Sometimes it's more effective to teach patients good sleep-hygiene, like only spending time in bed for sleeping and sex, and avoiding bright lights, like the TV and computer, beforehand. Despite these effective treatments, an estimated 70-percent of people with insomnia do not talk about sleep with their general practitioners. You don't have to be among them! If you're experiencing recurrent insomnia or abnormal mood symptoms, see a doctor.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012