While progress is a good thing, it can have its side effects. The technology-centric world that we live in means we’re frequently connected to our devices like umbilical cords—creating a heightened sense of vigilance with little room to relax. Such an always-on mentality can have significant health implications—especially when it comes to sleep. A recent infographic, created by Nursing@Georgetown’s Online FNP Program, highlights both the challenges that technology presents, as well as recommendations for sleeping well in the digital age.
When the quality of our sleep is regularly affected, it can create a viscous cycle of increased stress that may result in chronic behavior, performance and health issues—including mental health disorders. The impact of insufficient sleep has become such a concern that the CDC has labeled it a major public health problem. Here, we’ll examine how lack of quality sleep can have significant consequences on both our short-term happiness and long-term health.
The Sleep-Stress Connection
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, there is a close connection between sleep and mood. Experts there note that when sleep is poor in either quality or quantity, it can lead to increased irritability and stress. In the reverse, stress also affects the ability to get a good night’s sleep, since it leaves individuals more agitated and alert. When not addressed, this vicious cycle can lead to other problems, including a higher risk of developing mood disorders like anxiety or depression. As Dr. Lawrence Epstein, Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers and an instructor at Harvard Medical School noted in a Harvard publication, “There’s a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep. So, people who are depressed or have anxiety often have trouble with sleep as part of those disorders.”
Sleep and Mental Health
The glaring impact of chronic sleep problems is clearly evidenced for those with mental health issues. According to another Harvard University resource, “Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.” These trends are noted to be especially true for patients diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although mental health practitioners have historically viewed sleep disorders as a side effect of mental health disorders, that paradigm is changing as recognition grows regarding the significant impact of ineffective sleep on mental health.
A specific and related area is that of postpartum depression (PPD). Katherine Stone, executive director of Postpartum Progress, wrote in a blog post that mothers who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk for PPD. She cites researcher April Hirschberg, MD, who notes, “Women with PPD had poorer sleep quality and lower sleep efficiency than women without PPD … .” The opposite was also noted to be true, that women with poor sleep quality were also at higher risk for increased PPD symptom severity—findings similar to those in another study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing.
Although a good night’s sleep might seem a luxury to some, there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates a critical link between quality sleep and optimal health. So, the next time you’re tempted to indulge in a last digital splurge as you turn out the lights, remember the importance of disconnecting and winding down before you crawl into bed. Transforming restless evenings into peaceful transitions can create better sleep and improve your physical and mental health in the process.
Blogger:John Rehm @GUOnlineNursing