Individual, Family & Group Psychotherapy
Locations in New York & New Jersey
Aug 2

Anxiety, Depression, And Sleep


By Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski
How’re you sleeping?

If you can’t sleep, or if you can but you wake up every so often choking or gasping for breath, or if you snore loudly and often, you probably have a sleep disorder.

You also might be at risk of developing anxiety or depression or might already be struggling with one or both of these mental health issues.

Amir Sharafkhaneh, MD, PhD and Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, recently discussed the correlation between one sleep disorder, called sleep-disordered breathing (SBD) and anxiety disorders and depression in Psychiatric Times. Any observant therapist (those who do thorough evaluations) will tell you that many, if not most of their patients, actually have some kind of sleep disorder, possibly including sleep-disordered breathing.

Whether the sleep disorder precedes the mental illness or the mental illness precedes the sleep disorder appears to vary on your point of view, as much as your psychosocial history. As for causality, well clinicians and researchers come down on both sides of the issue.

Years ago clinicians believed that symptoms of mental illness included various types of sleep disorders. Today research seems to indicate that many of them precede mental illness. Sleep disorders appear to indicate that you might have a higher risk of mental illness and some research does indeed show that they actually contribute to psychiatric problems.

We don’t have to construct complicated studies to recognize that withholding sleep from someone causes mental dysfunction (such as memory problems or problems concentrating). We know that at a certain point, sleep deprivation causes serious problems including hallucinations and psychosis, or even death.

For example, we can look at world history and current events for some answers.

Sleep deprivation has been used in interrogation as a method of torture. In the former Soviet Union, the NKVD (which the KGB branched from), Menachem Begin former prime minister of Israel was famously a victim of sleep-deprivation torture. In White nights: The Story Of A Prisoner in Russia, we read “In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep… Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”

Other countries, both tyrannical dictatorships and democracies, have used sleep deprivation during interrogation. China is well-known for using it, not only with Chinese dissidents but also with Tibetan political prisoners. Recently a young Chinese man sadly lost his life, not from interrogation and torture but from staying up to watch every game in the European soccer championship.

History, current events, clinical research (and ordinary observation and clinical experience) show that lack of sleep (including sleep disorders) may not only contribute to serious health problems, anxiety, and depression, but also bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses and cognitive dysfunction.

Whether you have a mental illness or not, (or an addiction, by the way; our program often sees people who became addicted to the medication they were prescribed for insomnia or pain-related insomnia), getting a good night’s sleep is essential to functioning well and living a meaningful life.

Make a good night’s sleep, nutritious diet, exercise and other good physical health habits a priority in your life—your mental health will definitely get a boost.

See C.R.’s recipe for a good night’s sleep.

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