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Poor Sleep Linked to Mental Illness, Large-Scale Study Says

Woman hanging off a bed with arm covering head

Disrupted sleep and lots of tossing and turning throughout the night could be linked to mental illness, according to one of the largest studies of its kind.

Many of us know that even one night of disrupted sleep can have an impact on your general health and wellness, but the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), found that those diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their life were more likely to have poorer sleep quality, compared to the general population. 

“The differences in sleep patterns indicated worse sleep quality for participants with a previous diagnosis of mental illness, including waking up more often and for longer periods of time,” Shreejoy Tripathy, senior author and independent scientist at CAMH’s Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics, said in the press release.

Related: How much sleep do you really need? this study breaks it down.

Sleepy-looking woman, holding a mug with a pillow tucked under her arm

However, researchers also noted that the sleep-mental health link is a bit like the chicken-or-the-egg scenario: “The relationship between sleep and mental health is bi-directional,” lead study author Dr. Michael Wainberg said. “Poor sleep contributes to poor mental health and poor mental health contributes to poor sleep.”

He added, “Sleep pattern differences were a feature of all mental illnesses we studied regardless of diagnosis.” 

In the past, other research has linked chronic sleep issues with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

You may also like: Foods to eat (and avoid) to help you fall asleep faster.

Person tucked under covers, with her head under a pillow

A breakdown of the sleep study

To gather data, researchers recruited close to 90,000 participants in the United Kingdom who agreed to wear an accelerometer on their wrist for 24 hours a day, for one full week. 

The accelerometer tracked the participants body movements, reporting the data back into a digital patient data biobank. The team’s computational algorithms analyzed the data, breaking it down into metrics such as participants’ bedtime, wake-up time, any naps and the longest uninterrupted stretches of sleep. 


See also: Why you get nightmares and how to stop them.

What they found is that up to 80 per cent of the people with previously-diagnosed mental health disorders end up spending more time being restless during designated sleep times, or having trouble staying asleep or waking up earlier than planned. 

CAMH psychiatrist and sleep disorder specialist Dr. Michael Mak concluded, “We know that sleep disturbances cause a great burden to society, including an economic one. And we know that treatments that improve sleep quality, whether it is therapy or some types of medication, can improve mental health outcomes.”

The team hopes such research can ultimately help better personalize patients’ mental health care.

Related: Your fave catchy songs could be the reason for poor sleep.

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