As a chronic insomniac, I can honestly tell you that getting enough sleep is crucial for anyone, but especially for those battling mental health disorders.
– by Anonymous Talkspace User
I want you to look back on your life and think about your mood, behavior, and interactions with other people when you’ve had less than 5 hours of sleep. You were probably irritable, highly susceptible to engaging in conflict, and slow in you thinking but quick in your reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Now, imagine being sleep deprived, while also dealing with a mental disorder. Basically, not sleeping can exacerbate any mental condition, making it significantly worse in people who have trouble sleeping as opposed to those that don’t.
I’ve had problems with sleep for as long as I can remember. Even in kindergarden, I was wide awake while the children around me enjoyed nap-time. And, for as long as I can remember, I was always the slightly more emotional kid out of the group; prone to crying, fighting, shouting, and then fighting some more. I was always in some kind of trouble, and my parents were on a first name basis with the entire school because of it. Looking back on it now, I would have probably been a much easier child to deal with had I slept more.
Reading articles about the importance of sleep has gotten to be comical. Yes, I have noticed how a lack of sleep makes my brain go haywire. Indeed, I have experienced a decline in my cognitive function on sleepless days. Thanks, but I really don’t need another reminder about how much slower my metabolism works after a sleepless night. And, I certainly don’t want to think about how much crappier my skin looks after insomnia hijacks my plans to get some shuteye. But the most dangerous side effect of not getting enough sleep is how it impacts my mental health.
As someone who is constantly struggling to keep my depression, anxiety, and general neurotic behaviors under control, I understand and respect the value of sleep. Not getting enough leaves me unable to distinguish between my own tiredness and the tiredness that results from the influx of stimulation coming from the outside world. For example: I always take the subway to work. When I get enough sleep, I can successfully ignore the screaming crowds and the general rudeness that takes place in and around the NYC transit system. But when I don’t, I am a lot more prone to confronting people, and getting my butt handed to me in the process.
Although I am in therapy working on getting through some personal stuff, my lack of sleep often dictates how receptive I am to the information my therapist provides me with. Not getting enough sleep can make me defensive or unwilling to accept my own role in my progress. Being well rested, however, helps me get in touch with the abundance of thoughts and feelings that influence my behavior.
But, and this is a big one, no matter how much work my therapist and I try to get through, the efficacy of these efforts entirely depends on how much sleep I get that night.
Dear Therapist is an ongoing series of articles. Check out the other posts here!