Sleep and Mental Health — A Two-Way Street

Sleep and Mental Health — A Two-Way Street

You’ve struggled with insomnia for years and now you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Or, perhaps your anxiety levels are at an all-time high and getting a good night’s rest seems impossible as your mind races. These two scenarios illustrate the extremely close relationship between sleep and mental health, which is very much a two-way street.

While breaking down which came first might seem important (i.e. the chicken or the egg), psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Goldenberg believes that a more holistic and individual approach is to understand how the two are connected and to treat both issues at the same time, improving your wellness in all areas. 

Here’s a closer look at the link between mental health and sleep and how, through his practice in Santa Monica, California, Dr. Goldenberg can help you sleep and feel better. 

The effects of lack of sleep on your mental health

Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, the leading cause being insomnia — a condition in which you have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep.

The end result of insomnia is sleep deprivation, which can have an incredibly significant and negative impact on your physical and mental health. To better understand the mental health connection, let’s take a look at what happens in your brain when you sleep. 

The first thing to understand is that your stages of sleep can be broken down into two categories; 1) Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep; 2) Non-REM sleep. During REM sleep your brain is quite active and, during non-REM sleep your brain quiets considerably. Throughout the night, you cycle through REM and non-REM sleep.

During the REM stage of sleep, your brain is actively processing events and forming memories, as well as passively processing and storing your emotions surrounding those memories. 

If you aren’t getting enough REM sleep, this processing is interrupted, and you’re not holding onto happier memories and thought processes, which can lead to problems with mood and emotion regulation. Or you are not able to process difficult emotions, traumas and losses, as you normally would during REM sleep. 

Another way in which a sleep issue can affect your mental health is if you try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to get the sleep you need. Not only is this approach ineffective, it can quickly lead to a substance use disorder and/or a struggle with substance intoxication and withdrawal which can further negatively impact your sleep and mental health.

How your mental health affects your sleep

Now let’s take a look in the opposite direction — how a mental health disorder can affect sleep.

Let’s start with anxiety, which can put your body in a fight-or-flight state due to the release of stress hormones. These hormones induce physiological reactions, such as muscle tension, vasoconstriction, increased heart rate etc. that can make sleep very difficult. As if the physical challenges for sleep weren’t enough, anxiety often comes with racing or ruminating thoughts, which can make sleep all but impossible.

Depression can also affect your sleep patterns as you may be getting too little or too much sleep because of your mood disorder.

Getting back to substance abuse and substance use disorders, these, too, can greatly affect your sleep patterns. You may think that a depressive substance, such as alcohol or opioids, helps you sleep better, but the opposite is true as it’s more difficult to reach normal and healthy REM sleep.

Tackling your sleep issues and your mental health

To untangle the complex web between your mental health and your sleep patterns, you should consider an evaluation from a mental health and substance use disorder expert. Dr. Goldenberg has extensive experience in taking a holistic, individual and comprehensive approach and treating all aspects of mental health and sleep, so you can overcome your mental health and sleep issues simultaneously. 

Once you are able to restore your sleep and mental health, Dr. Goldenberg helps you to achieve mental wellness, feel back to yourself again and more fully engaged in all aspects of your life. 

To get started, contact Dr. Goldenberg by calling our office or booking an appointment online today. Dr. Goldenberg is licensed to provide patients general psychiatry and addiction treatment throughout both California and Alaska. 

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