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What Mental Disorders That Can Cause Insomnia

Insomnia, defined as persistent difficulty falling or staying asleep, is a common symptom of several mental health conditions. While occasional sleep troubles are normal, individuals with chronic insomnia that lasts for months and impairs daily functioning may have an underlying psychiatric disorder. Here are some of the most common mental illnesses associated with insomnia.

Depression

Insomnia or other sleep disturbances are very common in people with major depressive disorder. Estimates indicate that up to 90% of depressed individuals experience insomnia during an episode.

Depression can make it hard to fall asleep, cause frequent nighttime awakenings, and lead to waking up earlier than desired. This may be due to rumination and excessive worrying while trying to sleep. Depression can also cause agitation, restlessness and fatigue that make sleep initiation difficult.

People with depression tend to experience lighter, less restorative sleep. They also often have disruptions in circadian rhythms and melatonin secretion that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Treating the underlying depression, through psychotherapy and antidepressant medication, often resolves insomnia.

Anxiety Disorders

All types of anxiety disorders are linked to sleeping problems. Up to 70% of people with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder complain of insomnia.

Anxiety can make falling asleep challenging, as worrying thoughts and physical symptoms like racing heart beat make it hard to relax. Anxiety also frequently causes middle of the night awakenings. In the case of panic attacks, nocturnal episodes may wake someone up suddenly. Sleep disorders like nightmares and panic attacks may even trigger anxiety symptoms, fueling a vicious cycle.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medications can be effective in addressing the anxiety that leads to insomnia. Relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga before bedtime also help.

Bipolar Disorder

Insomnia is extremely common during manic or hypomanic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Estimates suggest around 70% experience substantially reduced sleep needs during mania. They may get as little as 2-4 hours of sleep a night for multiple nights, yet still feel energized.

The reasons for insomnia during manic states include racing thoughts, hyperactivity, and impaired judgment. Coming down off manic highs often leads to sleeping excessively. Disturbances in the sleep/wake cycle can persist during euthymic periods as well.

Mood stabilizing medications, sleeping aids, and maintaining good sleep hygiene can help manage insomnia in bipolar disorder. Avoiding screens before bed, sticking to a routine, limiting caffeine, and creating a dark quiet environment facilitate sleep.

Schizophrenia

Insomnia is a frequent symptom in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. It may present before psychosis emerges, during acute psychotic episodes, and as an ongoing issue in chronic schizophrenia.

Factors contributing to insomnia include anxiety, depression, paranoia, hallucinations disrupting sleep, and reduced need for sleep during manic phases. Medications, like antipsychotics and antidepressants, can also interfere with sleep architecture.

Doctors usually try to address insomnia with non-pharmacological interventions first in schizophrenia. This may involve sleep hygiene education, cognitive behavioral therapy, or social rhythm therapy to impose structure. Hypnotic medications are used as a last resort due to risks.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Up to 70% of adults and children with ADHD experience restless sleep and insomnia. The reasons are multifactorial but ADHD symptoms themselves play a major role.

The hyperactivity and inability to calm the mind makes falling asleep a challenge. Then ADHD-related impulsiveness and distraction can lead to an inconsistent sleep routine. Many also have circadian rhythm disruptions causing difficulty waking up.

Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD, like Adderall and Ritalin, can also interfere with sleep if taken too late in the day. Doctors may adjust medication timing and sleep hygiene practices to improve sleep in ADHD patients.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD has a very strong connection to disrupted sleep in the form of insomnia and nightmares. It is estimated that 70-91% of people with PTSD have insomnia as a result of traumatic memories.

Falling asleep is hindered by hypervigilance and anxiety related to the trauma. Frequent nightmares also create an aversion to sleep. Individuals may intentionally try to avoid sleep to prevent recurrent nightmares, worsening sleep deprivation.

Exposure therapy and prazosin, a blood pressure medication, are both used specifically to treat trauma-related nightmares. Other antidepressants and sleep aids can help with insomnia, alongside cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD.

In summary, psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD and PTSD often lead to insomnia. Treating the underlying condition while also practicing good sleep habits is important for managing chronic insomnia connected to mental illness. Prescription sleep aids may also be used when appropriate. Getting quality sleep is critical for overall wellbeing.