Sleepless in anxiety
Sleep is not a neutral state. You do not simply switch off the engine when you go to sleep and spend a few hours in â€œidleâ€ mode. Sleep is an active state, separate from waking consciousness but equally real and important. During sleep many physically regenerative actions take place to allow things like your immune system to run at their best. It is also a time for intense mental activity, making sense of what has happened during the day, and for learning. It is no surprise then that lack of sleep may predispose you to mental illness such as depression.
To investigate the link between sleep and mental health researchers surveyed more than 20 000 people aged between seventeen and 24 from New South Wales, Australia over an eighteen month period. What emerged was a clear link between lack of sleep and mental health.
It was found that people who averaged less than five hours sleep per night were at three times the risk of developing mental illness compared to people who average eight to nine hours per night.
Additionally, there was an increased risk of heart disease and weight gain in these comparatively sleepless individuals.
It must be said that poor sleep is part of the early phase of many mental illnesses such as depression. However, lack of sleep itself is a likely contributor to the mental problems and the very worst effects are seen in those who are sleeping very short hours.
It appears that changed lifestyle patterns in an always-on, digitally enhanced, techno-verse are not friendly to our psyches. Yet itâ€™s not really a new phenomenon: Shakespeare was onto it more than 400 years ago when he observed it is, â€œSleep that knits up the ravellâ€™d sleeve of careâ€ and is the â€œBalm of hurt minds.â€ (Macbeth, II, ii)