Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Why Are Mental Health Problems So Prevalent? Is Sleep Deprivation to Blame?

Jen Slack's picture
How lack of sleep affects mental health

What are the long term effects of sleep deprivation and how do they affect mental health.


We all know what happens when we don't get enough sleep. Just one unfortunate night of tossing and turning makes for a very unpleasant next day. I know I tend to be cranky, impatient, unproductive, fatigued, clumsy and emotional. I make more mistakes and feel like I just can't think straight. I recall a few years back when I was clearly suffering from a night of sleep deprivation, I realized I was about to go through a red light that I had not even noticed. Thankfully, I did notice just in time to slam on the brakes.

The effects of insomnia are indeed devastating and can be detrimental to one's health. Lack of sleep negatively affects our memory, ability to think and concentrate, our mood, blood pressure and immunity. It also causes weight gain poor balance and lowers our sex drive.

During sleep your body heals itself and its physically and mentally - chemical balance is restored.
It's widely studied and known that the brain and body don't function well without enough sleep. No amount of Caffeine can help with that, although it may seem like it temporarily does.

Most of the healing comes in particular during the REM state, where a person is actually dreaming. When we wish "Sweet Dreams" to a loved one, we are, in essence, extending best wishes for a few hours of mental and physical healing.

What the Brain Looks When You Are Deprived of Sleep

Matthew Walker and his team from University of California along with collaboraters from Harvard Med School studied 26 healthy students, half of which were sleep deprived.

Here's how it worked.

Half of the students got a regular night's sleep and the other half were sleep deprived - awake for 35 hours straight. Each group was shown a set of 100 slides while their brain activity was observed on an MRI. The slides began with inoffensive photos of things like baskets and gradually went on to become more dramatic or offensive, with the latter photos of dying patients, burn victims and mutilated bodies.

The Results

In the regular group the brain activity remained the same.

In the sleep deprived group, as the slides became more and more dramatic and offensive, researchers did notice remarkable changes in the amygdala - the part of the brain that controls the way we react to stimuli or emotion. Researchers observed increase of 60 percent brain activity and five times more neurons were transmitting impulses.
Walker called the results "profound", stating "We've never seen a magnitude of increase between two groups that big in any of our studies before".

Researchers then studied beyond the beyond the amygdala to view the activty of another parts of the brain, to see if brain networks were communicating with each other.

In normal group, the amygdala seemed to be 'talking' to the medial prefrontoal cortex, outer layer of brain helps put experiences and emotion into their proper context. Perhaps in this case, saying, "It's just a photo".

In the sleep deprived, group, however, the amygdala seemed to be 'rewired', 'talking' instead with the area of the brain called the locus coeruleus, wherein "fight or flight reactions" reactions are triggered.

Sleep Deprived Have Less Control of Emotions

Follow eMaxHealth on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.

As Walker explains "When you're sleep deprived you're all accelerator and no brakes. You don't have control over your emotions". The part of the brain that makes us more rational is not being communicated with.

It was also noted by Walker that "people in this (sleep-deprived) state seem to experience a pendulum of emotions, going from upset and annoyed to giddy in moments".

Statistics On Sleep Deprivation in those with Mental or Mood Disorders

65% to 90% of adults and 90% of children experience some kind of sleep problem.

69% to 99% of patients experience either insomnia or say they feel the need to sleep less during a manic or bipolar disorder.

More than 50% of adults have sleep issues. In a study of children, most slept less soundly and took longer to fall asleep that children without anxiety.

Children with ADHD took longer to fall asleep, slept restlessly and for shorter periods than children without ADHA

Is Sleep Deprivation Causing Mental Health Issues

Matthew Walker also says "Almost all psychiatric disorders show some problems with sleep."

Is it possible that sleep disorders are part of the cause of the many mental issues that we are faced with today?

Robert Stickgold, sleep researcher at Harvard University says, "It was just so easy to say about a patient, well, he's depressed or schizophrenic, of course he's not sleeping well - and never to ask whether or not there could be a causal relationship the other way".

If you or a loved one have a problem with Insomnia, check out these possible fixes.

Also check out this link about how a good sleep also positively affects our risk for heart attack and stroke.

Are you concerned about sleep deprivation and how it relates to mental health?