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    Sleep and Its Increasing Importance in Our Mental Health

    Our society does not have an adequate understanding of sleep and the many aspects of our life which are affected by a lack of sleep. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of working with some of the best-known sleep researchers in the world and I learned, first-hand, how important sleep was. I even met one of the truly outstanding researchers in the sleep field, Dr. William C. Dement of Stanford University. Dr. Dement is now the Chairman of the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research. Dr. Dement, in fact, was one of the first people to talk about “sleep debt” and how it hurts us.

    We know that sleepy drivers probably cause more traffic accidents and deaths than any other drivers on the road. While there are a few devices meant to keep these drivers alert, nothing beats a good night’s sleep and this has been tested out in studies done with over-the-road truck drivers and airline pilots. I’m sure they’ve even done work with air traffic control personnel. But does lack of sleep affect us in ways other than our ability to perform complex tasks? It seems it does.

    In a study which began in 1984 with 25,000 Norwegian adults, researchers found that chronic insomnia or lack of sleep led to an increased likelihood of suffering from both depression and anxiety and developing a disorder of either one or both.

    We know that insomnia is associated with depression, normally, and that chronic anxiety can also lead to sleep problems, but here we have something that is pointing to the reverse; sleep disorders resulting in anxiety and depression.

    You can read the report for yourself in the journal, Sleep.

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