Understanding the relationship between insomnia and mental health

What is insomnia?

Insomnia can take many forms including difficulty falling asleep at night, waking up multiple times throughout the night, and being unable to fall back asleep after waking. It may occur for weeks or months, or it may become a chronic condition that lasts for years. People who experience insomnia often describe it as a state in which their mind is always racing and they’re unable to relax.

What’s the relationship between insomnia and mental health?

Insomnia is connected to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression, as well as emotional concerns such as irritability and lack of impulse control. Insomnia is frequently a symptom of mental health challenges – we can’t sleep because of our stressors. We may have anxious or sad thoughts that run through our minds and keep us awake at night.


Often, however, the reverse is also true. Insomnia affects our mental health and well-being, lowering our ability to function because we’re getting less sleep. It can be challenging to recognize if our lack of sleep is causing mental health issues, or if mental health issues are causing our inability to sleep. More often than not, it’s both!


How does sleeping affect our mood?

The stages of sleep help the brain restore and process information, so it can function at its normal level the next day. When we get a full night’s sleep, the part of our brain that influences emotional responses resets. So called “housekeeping services” for the neurons in the brain are most active during sleep, helping keep the neurons working efficiently when we’re awake. Without sleep, the area of the brain responsible for appropriate behavioural responses doesn’t get the rest and refresh that it needs, negatively affecting our mood and behaviour during waking hours.


What about dreams? Have you ever woken up in the middle of a dream and felt your heart racing? When dreaming is interrupted, we tend to wake up in a state of panic and hyper-arousal, which can affect our mood and mental health. Similarly, the stressors in our lives often lead to vivid and highly emotional dreams, creating a cycle of stress. This is particularly true for people experiencing trauma, depression or anxiety. Vivid dreams are also common during withdrawal from alcohol, sedatives or other substances.


Take care of your mental health and sleep!

Insomnia significantly affects our mental health, and our mental health significantly affects our quality of sleep. Understanding the relationship between insomnia and mental health, as well as recognizing how it plays out in your life, can help improve your overall well-being. There are various treatment options for insomnia, including the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). AbilitiCBT, an internet-based CBT mental health program, can help for both your sleep and ongoing mental health issues.