A good night’s sleep for a healthy mind

Sleep problems are common in people with mental illness. It’s traditionally been thought that poor sleep is a symptom or outcome of a mental health condition and therefore treatment strategies haven’t always incorporated sleep hygiene practices.

Increasingly though, sleep is being looked to as a factor potentially contributing to the incidence of some mental health conditions. Lack of sleep can affect mood, concentration and other aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing so it’s plausible that this may extend to mental health.

One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, which is characterised by consistent difficulties falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the treatment approaches recommended for insomnia. Researchers looked at the association between treatment of insomnia and improvements in sleep and mental health outcomes.

Participants were university students, aged 18 years and over, who screened positive for insomnia. They were allocated to receive either digital CBT or standard care to treat their insomnia. The CBT program comprised six sessions, each lasting an average of 20 minutes and included behavioural, cognitive and educational components. Insomnia, paranoia and hallucinatory experiences were among the outcomes assessed.

Large reductions in insomnia were observed in participants receiving the intervention and was associated with small, sustained reductions in some psychological symptoms.

Implications

The participants in this study were all students at university so more research is needed to ascertain applicability across the broader population. Adequate sleep is an integral part of good physical and mental wellbeing. If you have trouble falling asleep there are strategies you can practise to assist you. These include practising mindfulness before bed (there are a number of good mindfulness tools available for free), switching off electronic devices once you’re in bed, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and other stimulants in the lead up to your bed time.

References

Freeman, D et al. (2017). The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trail with mediation analysis. Lancet Psychiatry http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30328.