By Sarah Stone, Beacon Health Options, NFDA Work/Life Resource Program (EAP)
If you can’t fall or stay asleep, you may have insomnia. Insomnia can also be waking up too early or poor quality sleep. In some cases, insomnia can be a sign of another health problem, such as anxiety or depression. On the flip side, insomnia can also raise your risk for these same disorders.
Insomnia can also play a role in substance use disorder. For many people, it is a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Insomnia and depression
Insomnia is common among adults. Depression is among the most common mental health disorders. Yet you may not be able to tell which came first. Many signs overlap. If you have insomnia, you may have:
- Low energy
- Lack of focus
- Mood changes, such as feeling angry or nervous
- A dip in performance at work or school
If you have depression, poor sleep may be one sign. Some signs that are the same for insomnia are low energy, lack of focus, and mood changes. Other signs of depression are:
- Feeling low and sad most of the day, almost every day
- Not enjoying activities you love
- Weight loss or gain
- Avoiding people
- Crying without reason
For Lucy Welch, 40, insomnia and depression often go hand in hand. She has had bouts of insomnia that have made her depression worse. And, “Feeling low has also brought sleepless nights,” says Welch. Although this cycle can seem hard to break, you can take steps to feel better.
Insomnia and anxiety
Poor sleep can be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety affects millions of adults. It is also known as generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. GAD can cause extreme worries about health, family, work, and more. These worries last for at least six months and get in the way of work, play, and sleep. Other signs include fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.
Insomnia and substance use disorder
For some people, a substance use disorder may be at the root of poor sleep. Some people rely on substances such as alcohol to fall sleep. But abuse of alcohol, cocaine, sedatives, and other substances can cause insomnia. At the same time, insomnia causes new and repeat problems with substance use disorder. If you have an addiction, treat sleep disorders to boost your chances of healing. Treating substance use disorder can also help improve sleep.
Tips for helping both emotional health and sleep
Relaxing your mind and body can improve your sleep. In turn, good rest can help you manage mental health disorders. Try these ideas to help you relax:
- Pay close attention to your breathing.
- Think about peaceful places.
- Get routine exercise.
- Tackle more important tasks first and say no or get help if you have more than you can manage.
- Listen to soft music.
- Help others to lessen stress and put focus elsewhere.
- See a doctor or therapist to help reduce stress and emotional upsets.
If the steps above do not improve your sleep, don’t go it alone. See a doctor if your sleep troubles last for two to four weeks. A primary care doctor, mental health professional, or sleep disorders specialist can help. Your doctor may suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches you how to change habits that cause sleep problems. There are also medicines available, but talk to the doctor about the risks and benefits.
Lack of sleep can hurt your mind and body. But treating sleep problems can help you manage mental health disorders. And treating mental health disorders can help improve your sleep. If you feel like your illness is getting worse or symptoms are not easing up, seek help. Above all, make sure you get help right away if you:
- Feel hopeless
- Think about hurting yourself
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, www.adaa.org
Mental Health America, www.mentalhealthamerica.net
National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org
The Work/Life Resource Program (EAP) offers a toll-free hotline staffed by experts who can suggest resources and offer support, along with unlimited access to online resources for:
Unlimited phone/online consultations and up to three in-person sessions with a licensed counselor per year
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The support offered through the NFDA Work/Life Resource Program is free and confidential. It is available to you, your immediate family, your staff, and members of their immediate family.
For more information, visit www.nfda.org/worklife (member log in required).