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Are bad sleeping habits driving us mad?

1 June 2010 No Comment

If you’ve read more than one or two of my posts then you’ve probably noticed certain subjects seem to come up repeatedly, and the benefits of a good night’s sleep would be one of them. Kind of contradicts all the posts I do about having coffee now that I think about it….

This article looks at the relationship between poor sleep and mental illness – in a nutshell the relationship is that people with mental illness are poor sleepers. It has been thought that the poor sleep is due to the mental illness, but the question has recently been raised – what if it’s the other way round? What if it is because you are a poor sleeper that you developed your mental illness?

The implications of this are pretty big – for starters, the large number of people on medications that they maybe should not be on because they’ve been wrongly diagnosed. And following on from that – they could be getting other types of treatment that would be helping them. Some of the disorders that this looks like it will apply to include people with depression, children with ADHD, and people with bipolar disorder.

Let’s look at a couple of findings from studies on sleep that help support this case:

A review in the American Journal of Psychology found “impaired sleep can induce the manic episodes suffered by people with bipolar disorder” (vol 165, p 830).

“Adults with depression are five times as likely as the average person to have difficulty breathing when asleep” (New Scientist, 18 February 2009)

Between a quarter and a half of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suffer from sleep complaints, compared with just 7 per cent of other children.” (New Scientist, 18 February 2009).

“Students who had reported suffering from insomnia were twice as likely to develop depression as those with no trouble sleeping.” (New Scientist, 18 February 2009).

Of 34 adults with sleep apnoea that he investigated, 16 had scores that suggested a moderate or severe impairment of attention. Subsequent treatment for the apnoea led to substantial improvements in attention scores for 60 per cent of these individuals” (New Scientist, 18 February 2009).

Sleep disorders, like sleep apnoea, “can lead to mild ADHD-like behaviours that can be readily misperceived and potentially delay the diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” (Pediatrics, 2007, vol 111, p 554).

A study of children undergoing surgery to remove their tonsils and adenoids (a common treatment for snoring and sleep apnoea) found that before the operation, one-quarter had a diagnosis of ADHD compared to 7.4 per cent of healthy controls. But a year after the operations, half of these children no longer met the criteria for ADHD (Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, vol 133, p 974).

Mark Kohler from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, who has studied links between ADHD and sleep, suspects that some children are being treated with drugs such as Ritalin while their true problem, a sleep disorder, goes unrecognised.” (New Scientist, 18 February 2009).

I’ve probably gone a bit over the top in making my point here, I guess I really want to highlight how important sleep can be. Clearly there is some uncertainty regarding the exact cause of some common mental disorders, and there is some good research that shows poor sleep may be a contributing factor.



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