Sleep and health are closely interrelated. For a long time it was thought that mental problems are the cause of sleep disorders, but studies show that the other way around, sleep disorders themselves can lead to mental illness – or their aggravation.
Sleep disorders and their consequences
Chronic insomnia (sleep disorder) increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes – especially in people with high blood pressure. Bad sleep also weakens the immune system and even promotes obesity and diabetes. In addition to these physical consequences, there are also many negative effects on mental health.
But how can bad sleep lead to mental illness? The reason for this is the increased release of the stress hormone cortisol. The body is under constant stress, which becomes physical and psychological stress. In some people, the genetic predisposition does not allow this stressful situation to be resolved, which can lead to depression or anxiety disorder.
To make matters worse, the person affected recognizes his or her sleep disorder, but at the same time has the feeling that there is nothing he can do about it – the person enters a state of helplessness, which can lead to a depressive mood or exacerbate it.
Furthermore, lack of sleep disturbs or interrupts the communication between the frontal lobe and the amygdala (almond kernel). The frontal lobe regulates cognitive processes such as learning, planning, problem solving, comparing, recognizing, thinking and making decisions. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the evaluation of emotional stimuli.
If these brain processes are disrupted, one can no longer respond appropriately to emotional stimuli, which can lead to psychiatric symptoms. Those affected suffer from poor concentration, often make mistakes, are impatient and quickly overwhelmed with situations, which drives them to overreact.
The symptoms of sleep deprivation are similar to symptoms of mental illness, which is why sufferers are often misdiagnosed. Sufferers are treated for the mental illness, although poor sleep is the actual cause of the symptoms. This mostly affects children diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Scientists found that around a quarter of children with mild ADHD suffer from sleep apnea, a breathing disorder during sleep. In contrast, this only applies to five percent of children with severe ADHD and another five percent of healthy children. This suggests that the symptoms of sleep deprivation are similar to those of mild ADHD, making it easy to misdiagnose.