If you’re suffering from sleep problems, here’s something you need to know. Mental illness can cause sleep disorders and vice versa.

I was diagnosed with a mental illness at the age of 18, and afterward, I experienced my first sign of sleep problems. I didn’t realize that maybe these issues were related. I was a young adult and I guess I never put much focus on things like that. It was even difficult to remember to take my medications.

Most people aren’t aware that sleep problems and mental disorders are connected. Either mental disorders cause problems with sleep or sleep problems cause mental disorders. It actually does work both ways. To gain a better understanding it’s important to learn the connections and links between the two issues.

The links between sleep problems and mental disorders

While some sleep problems are mild, some can be severe, even disrupting work and relationships. This can also happen with mental illness as well. If you put both of them together, life can become an almost impossible journey to navigate. Here’s how mental disorders and sleep problems are connected.

1. Sleep problems can be symptoms of mental illness

Did you know that sleep disorders can be symptoms of mental illness? It’s not entirely clear how this works, but many sleep problems have been early indicators of depression or anxiety. They can also be signs of Bipolar disorder, ADHD, and substance abuse as well.

As it turns out, the connection between sleep problems and mental illness appears as disordered sleep patterns, insomnia, and even sleep apnea.

2. Sleep problems can be causes of mental illness

On the flip side, mental illness can actually be caused by existing sleep disorders. When it comes to depression, a previous diagnosis of insomnia is sometimes present. Dealing with insomnia becomes so stressful that, over time, symptoms of depression and anxiety set in from a feeling of hopelessness.

Breathing disorders in sleep, like sleep apnea, can also cause the development of mental illness. Studies show that 60% of people who suffer from sleep apnea develop some sort of mental illness like depression. This may be caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain during sleep apnea episodes.

Then there’s the simple fact that struggling with a physical illness often leads to depression as well.

3. Sleep problems affect current mental illness

Sleep problems have been shown to also influence existing mental disorders as well. Having problems sleeping or retaining a normal sleep pattern exacerbates mania symptoms in bipolar patients.

A lack of sleep also stimulates the area of the brain which governs anxiety and depression. Other forms of mental illness can also be adversely affected by sleep problems as well, leading to an increased severity of symptoms from both problems.

4. Insomnia is linked with many mental disorders

The inability to sleep regularly is a curious illness indeed. It is a mixture of mental and physical symptoms. To be honest, its causes are various, with some being temporary and some lasting for a long time.

Insomnia can be caused by sleep apnea when cessation of breathing continually wakes you at night. I personally have severe sleep apnea and was told during a sleep study that I stopped breathing completely about 10 times. For months beforehand, I didn’t understand why I felt so terrible upon waking. Now I know that I was barely getting enough sleep or oxygen during the night.

Insomnia can also be caused by mental illnesses and stress. If you have an anxiety disorder, then one issue you could have is overthinking. This overthinking can go on into the evening and even disrupt sleep at night. Instead of falling asleep easily, you may wrestle with thoughts for hours before finally succumbing to rest.

Bipolar disorder may also cause insomnia when you’re experiencing manic symptoms. It just might be almost impossible to get to sleep during a manic episode because of the racing thoughts and euphoric feelings.

Connections and how this influences treatment

Now that you have a basic understanding of the connections between sleep problems and mental illness, you can experience better solutions for healing. You can use some of the same tactics for both issues, while some techniques will have to be individually targeted.

1. Good habits

One way to treat sleep problems is by practicing good sleep habits. For instance, practice going to bed at the same time every night. Even if you have trouble falling asleep, this consistency will still help a little. Please avoid any exercises before bed as this gets your heart racing. Since physical activity makes you more alert and focused, it’s obvious that you should avoid such things before bed.

Also, you will want to make sure you avoid things like alcohol or caffeine before bedtime. It’s obvious how caffeine affects the system and makes you alert, but what of alcohol consumption?

Most people think that alcohol helps you sleep, and yes, it does…in a way. Alcohol can actually put you to sleep quickly, but it tends to cause you to wake up later on and have problems getting back to sleep. I bet you didn’t know that, huh.

2. Pampering

Before sleep, you can include pampering techniques like a warm bath or meditation. These moves help to slow down your body and your mind simultaneously. Try incorporating herbal influences as well, like Lavender or Valerian. When you feel soothed, you can unwind and relax.

3. Sleep positions

There’s another aspect to getting a good night’s rest, and improving your mental health in the process. You’ve probably ignored the position in which you sleep, and that’s not good.

It is extremely important to pay attention to how you’re placing your head, and maybe, whether you’re sleeping on your back or your side. When you go to bed, pay close attention to your sleeping positions and adjust accordingly.

4. Medications

While I do not advocate taking loads of medications, I do stand behind taking the right medications when needed. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take medications in order to regulate your moods and sleeping patterns. If you feel like medications are needed, please consult a medical professional beforehand.

5. Cognitive Therapy

Helping you sleep at night can be attributed to helping you change the way you think. This is why cognitive therapy is so helpful. With this therapy, you can reframe how you feel about yourself or a situation that’s stressing you.

In turn, this can help you build a better sleep pattern. Less stress, guilt and regret…the better your sleep will become.

Learn and heal…then educate others

While there are still so many questions about the link between sleep problems in mental illness, you now have a blueprint. Yes, these issues are connected sometimes, but no, it’s not hopeless.

As long as you continue to seek wisdom and learn, you will be able to continually find better options for healing. With what you learn, please make sure to share with others. Remember, we are not alone in our struggles.


  1. https://www.healthyplace.com
  2. https://www.nami.org

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