We live in an age of sleep deprivation. In the 1950s, most people got on an average 8 hours of sleep every night but now it is reduced by at least an hour and a half. Teenagers need 9 hours but they often get only about 5 on a school night.
Sleep is restorative. It helps with conservation and regeneration of energy. It also helps with basic brain processes such as memory, creativity, problem-solving and learning. Shortage of sleep and poor quality of sleep is deeply damaging, as in shift workers. Not only does it have subtle effects on one’s personality, it also increases the risk of road and other accidents due to micro-sleeps in the day and increased impulsiveness.
“You always get sleep disruption in people with mental illness. That’s because they don’t have jobs, so they go to bed late and get up late” remarked a psychiatrist. This led Dr Russell Foster into the study of relationships between sleep and mental illness. His team at Oxford found that in patients with schizophrenia, regardless of antipsychotic treatment, sleep patterns were not just disrupted but totally smashed. Bipolar and Seasonal affective disorders and depression also involve bad sleep as do dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Sleep disruption is being studied as a biomarker of potential mental health problems and it offers the possibility of early intervention.
Researchers at Oxford have found that if sleep can be partially stabilized using CBT in patients with schizophrenia, levels of delusional paranoia can be reduced by 50%. It is possible that consistent improvement in sleep patterns may delay the onset of certain conditions by knocking the brain into a different developmental trajectory.
“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”