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How Mental Illness Can Contribute To Sleep Disturbances

There are many underlying types of sleep disturbances and underlying causes. In some instances, sleep problems are not a separate condition but a manifestation of mental illness. There are several psychological problems that could be destroying your sleep.

Affective Disorders

Affective, or mood, disorders can be a common culprit for sleep disturbances. People with depression may find they either struggle with getting to sleep or staying asleep. Some people with depression may also experience hypersomnia. They may be sleepy frequently and have difficulties waking up. If given the chance, they may sleep most of the day away. People with bipolar disorder can experience various sleep disturbances, depending on whether they are experiencing depression, mixed mania, or mania. Typically when a bipolar person is experiencing episodes of increased energy and mood, they may be fine with little or no sleep, possibly staying awake for days at a time.


Anxiety disorders are a frequent cause of sleep disturbances. People with various types of anxiety disorders often deal with insomnia, which can be onset, maintenance, or terminal insomnia. Onset insomnia means the person has difficulties going to sleep. They may be awake for hours before they are able to fall asleep. Maintenance insomnia is difficulty maintaining sleep. The person may wake up often during the night. People with terminal insomnia may only get a few hours of sleep before they wake up and cannot fall back to sleep, even if they are tired. Some types of anxiety disorders like panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may disrupt sleep because people wake up during the night in a panic or they are plagued by nightmares.

Psychotic Disorders

People with psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, may have difficulties with sleep because of hallucinations. They may hear voices at night that are impossible to ignore, especially if the voices command them to do things. Another type of hallucination can include tactile hallucinations, such as feeling like the person is being touched or bugs are on them. Unfortunately, this can lead to the inability to fall asleep although the person may be exhausted. Going with little sleep can also trigger or exacerbate hallucinations, which makes the problem worse.

Substance Use And Abuse

Substances, whether legal or illegal, often affect sleep. One of the most common substances used is alcohol. Some people may drink at night, erroneously believing a drink can help them sleep. Although this may be effective initially, alcohol withdrawal heightens anxiety, which can lead to prematurely waking up, and a cycle of drinking more to reduce the anxiety. Crack, cocaine, and meth trigger lengthy periods of sleeplessness. Usually, the use of these drugs come in binges, and once the binge is over, the person may sleep for days until the next binge begins. In contrast, heroin causes an immediate, pleasurable rush, which is usually followed by sleepiness.

Visiting a sleep clinic can be the first step in determining the cause of sleep problems.