Trouble sleeping? Landmark study links mental illness with restless nights

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The battle to get a good night’s rest is a familiar one to many of us. It’s common to wake up in the middle of the night, having trouble sleeping at first, especially if we’re feeling stressed or anxious.

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But with the help of advances in sleep-tracking technology, a team of Canadian scientists determined that sleep disturbances are a very common symptom of mental illness, regardless of diagnosis — a revelation that suggests a two-way relationship between sleep quality. Shedding new light on relationships. and overall mental health.

“In short, we found that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness during their lifetime have had a change in their sleep patterns, usually for the worse,” said Dr. Michael Weinberg, a post-doctoral researcher at the center. . Crembill Center for Neuroinformatics for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and lead author of the study.


While it is well known that poor sleep results in poor mental health and vice versa, this new study, Released Tuesday in the scientific journal PLOS, is by far the largest and most advanced.

Using a unique biobank filled with a range of health data from nearly half a million people in the United Kingdom, CAMH researchers were able to monitor the sleep patterns of more than 89,000 study participants in their homes. . They did this using an accelerometer, a movement tracking device worn on participants’ wrists that provided helpful data to measure metrics such as the length of sleep, or how long someone stayed awake in the middle of the night.

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The findings provide a comprehensive look at how common sleep disruptions occur in people with mental illness diagnoses, from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and may pave the way for understanding whether targeted measures to improve sleep are associated with mental health problems. Can help in holistic treatment of illness, because there are actions people can take to improve their sleep.

“In psychiatry, there are many things that we cannot measure. We cannot measure how a person thinks or feels,” said Dr. Michael Mack, a staff psychiatrist at CAMH who is on sleep medication. focuses. “Sleep is one factor we can objectively measure.”

Earlier, most sleep research was conducted in a laboratory, said Dr Srijoy Tripathi, a scientist at CAMH and a senior author of the study. He said using the UK Biobank opens doors to using similar technology for research in Canada through CAMH’s Brainhealth Databank, a digital information database that already collects health data and information from patients. Compiles metrics to help develop personalized treatment options for them.

Of UK Biobank, Tripathi said, “It’s really just an incredibly large-scale undertaking, which is funded by an array of public and private sectors in the country, including the National Health Service and pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca.

Tripathi said that without a biobank it would be impossible for a research team to collect timely data on sleep from multiple participants, but with the help of similar technology closer to home, Tripathi will be able to collect data on sleep from Canadian patients in the coming months. will start compiling. Wearable devices similar to those used in the UK

The study’s findings were compiled by looking at sleep data collected over a seven-day period from 2013 to 2015. Most of the participants did not have a diagnosis of mental illness, but their results were in contrast to the 2,480 participants who were diagnosed with a mental disorder.

For people with diagnosed mental illness, the average time spent sleeping on a night was six hours and three minutes, with a slightly higher six hours and 42 minutes for those without a diagnosis. The study results also showed that people with mental health disorders tend to wake up more often in the middle of the night, and take longer to fall asleep.

Lack of sleep can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, Mack said, while developing depression on its own can lead to insomnia and disrupted sleep. By knowing this connection between sleep and mental health, treatments for sleep quality, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, can reduce people’s levels of depression or other mental health problems.

“By improving sleep, we can improve one’s mood and probably other mental health disorders as well,” Mack said.

While the data for this study was compiled a few years ago, data collection during the recent COVID-19 pandemic shows increased patterns of disrupted sleep Due to stress and loss of routine. While sleep habits are generally improving, Mack said, there are some things people can do to monitor their sleep and determine whether it’s being disrupted significantly.

First, people could monitor the amount of time it took to fall asleep. “If you were the kind of person who fell asleep within half an hour, and now it takes you an hour to fall asleep, something may be going on from a mental health standpoint,” Mack said. Second, people should monitor whether they are waking up in the middle of the night, and whether those awakenings are occurring more often.

Finally, Mack said people can consider the overall quality of their sleep. “Do I feel better in the morning after sleeping all night? Do I feel refreshed? If I’m still sleepy, there may be a problem.”

Overall, the researchers largely credit the advances in wearable technology like Fitbits and Apple Watches for helping to identify links between mental health and sleep. While sleep-tracking technology has been around for a while, it has recently become more affordable, Mack said.

“If people measure their sleep at home with those tools, there may be a window for them to identify whether something is going on from a mental health standpoint that needs to be addressed,” Mack said.

“This is tremendous, because it gives us another opportunity to assess whether people are getting sick.”

Nadine Joseph is a Toronto-based reporter for Star covering mental health. Follow him on Twitter: @nadneyousif_
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