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General Medical Questions
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Question : Are sleep problems a significant cause of mental disorders?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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June 17, 2013
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Sleep problems can cause mental disorders. And mental disorders can also cause sleep problems.

Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice. That compares to 10% to 18% of adults in the general population.

Sleep goes awry especially in people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. How do you get that needed shut eye? Here are a few tips.

Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine interrupt normal sleep patterns. Limit caffeine to the morning. Curb your alcohol intake. Give up nicotine if you can. Certainly avoid all of these before bedtime.

Exercise regularly. It will help you fall asleep faster. You’ll spend more time in deep sleep and awaken less often during the night. Avoid evening exercise. It can make it harder to fall asleep.

Maintain a regular sleep-and-wake schedule. Use the bedroom only for sleeping or sex. Keep the bedroom dark and free of distractions (that is, no computer or television).

Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation (alternately tensing and releasing muscles) can counter anxiety. These techniques can also calm a mind full of thoughts.

If non-drug approaches fail, medication is an option. Treating your anxiety or mood problem may improve sleep. Some medications used to treat these illnesses also help people sleep better.

Stimulants used to treat attention problems tend to keep people awake. Only take those medications early in the day.

No matter who you are, sleep is good. Take aim at sleep problems, rather than treating them as a minor symptom. The result may be an overall improvement in mood, anxiety level and ability to focus.

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