photo of sleeping man

Sleep, or the Lack Thereof

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

– Ernest Hemingway

Sleep is perhaps one of the most important fundamentals in a person’s life. The Sleep Foundation describes sleep as an “essential function”, one that allows “your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up.”

It’s extremely important that most adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. A lack of sleep is linked to a higher risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, early death, and poor mental health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, there are a variety of reasons you may not be getting the sleep you need, including:

  • Stress or worry
  • A change in the noise level or temperature of your bedroom
  • A different routine
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Shift work
  • Physical or mental health problems
  • Side effects of certain medications

There are several types of sleep disorders, but the most prevalent is insomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is defined as the “difficulty either falling or staying asleep that is accompanied by daytime impairments related to those sleep troubles.” Research from the Mayo Clinic suggests 30% of all adults will experience short-term insomnia and 10% of adults will experience long-term insomnia.

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during falling asleep at night’s sleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

Insomnia is not uncommon. In fact, it’s the most common sleep disorder, and one that can be very dangerous.

That’s never stopped me, though. Of course, I shouldn’t be proud of that, and I’m not. But I do suffer from serious insomnia.

I suffer from chronic insomnia (which recently has come in handy with the birth of my youngest son). Being bipolar doesn’t help the matter any. When manic, I’ve stayed up for days without “needing” to rest. That’s not an everyday occurrence, thankfully, but it’s happened enough for me to be used to it.

To the lucky 75% of those who recover from their insomnia, I applaud you and wonder, “what’s your secret?”

I’ve been on all the meds: Ambien. Sonata. Belsomra. Trazadone. Restoril. Lunesta. I’ve stuck with Lunesta because it works some of the time. It’s hit or miss, which at this point is all I can hope for.

Insomnia is usually caused by bad sleep habits, depression, anxiety, and chronic illness. It can even be caused by certain medications.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are ways to fight insomnia, including:

  • Stick to a schedule: Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends.
  • Stay active: Regular activity helps promote a good night’s sleep. Schedule exercise at least a few hours before bedtime and avoid stimulating activities before bedtime.
  • Check your medications: If you take medications regularly, check with your doctor to see if they may be contributing to your insomnia. Also check the labels of OTC products to see if they contain caffeine or other stimulants, such as pseudoephedrine.
  • Avoid or limit naps: Naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you can’t get by without one, try to limit a nap to no more than 30 minutes and don’t nap after 3 p.m.
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol/Don’t use nicotine: All of these can make it harder to sleep, and effects can last for several hours.
  • Don’t put up with pain: If a painful condition bothers you, talk to your doctor about options for pain relievers that are effective enough to control pain while you’re sleeping.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages before bed: A light snack is fine and may help avoid heartburn. Drink less liquid before bedtime so that you won’t have to urinate as often.

Suffering from a mental illness can make falling asleep no easy task. It is usually easier said than done for me since other factors play a role. I’ve always had trouble sleeping. I struggle with falling asleep, not staying asleep. If I can get there, I’m there. It’s the getting to sleep that so often eludes me.

No matter, insomnia and other sleep disorders can be extremely damaging, especially to those with a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders tend to make it harder to sleep well, in general.

Disorders Affected by Lack of Sleep:

  • Depression
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADHD
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

There is research to suggest that “brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.” A 2021 study also suggests that issues with insomnia are “associated with significantly increased odds of frequent mental distress.”

Overall, sleep helps maintain cognitive abilities, including learning, memory, and emotional regulation. This is especially important to note to those who suffer from any kind of mental illness or psychiatric condition.

So, I guess that poet was wrong: Sleep isn’t just for dreamers.

Sleep is perhaps one of the most important things in everybody’s lives. The Sleep Foundation describes sleep as an “essential function”, one that allows “your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up.”

6 Comments

  1. This is VERY informative, Josh! Thank you for sharing. I’ve been having difficulty staying asleep lately (well, the last four months- since my husband’s diagnosis). I haven’t tried a sleep aid at this point. Still trying to make adjustments to diet and exercise to combat the problem. But a lack of sleep affects everything in my life in a negative way. Sleep is so important. Great post!

  2. I take an antipsychotic that completely alleviates my insomnia (due to obsessive thoughts from OCD). Not sure if Risperidone is a potential med for Bipolar disorder, but it’s been life changing for me.

  3. Thank you for posting about this, Josh – as someone who LOVES sleep (it’s a great escape from depression and anxiety) I learnt a lot. Bring on naps! haha. Hope you have a great weekend xx

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