sleep and mental illness

Previous studies have found a link between mental illnesses and low-quality sleep. But can sleep and mental illness symptoms be improved from digital cognitive behavioral therapy sessions?

Quality rest is well-documented for creating a stable mental state and providing the energy needed for daily activities. Unfortunately, for some people, slumber, and mental state suffer in a cycle of sleep-deprived illness, forming a possible link between sleep and mental illness.

A randomized study of 3,755 insomnia-prone students across 26 universities in the United Kingdom were selected to determine how big of a role sleep played in their psyche balance. Researchers wanted to discover a way to reduce symptoms and overall presence of illnesses including, but not limited to, insomnia, paranoia, and hallucinations related to low-quality sleep and mental illness. The method for experimentation employed an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) session that guided participants with relaxation and sleep-hygiene techniques as well as providing more educational information about mindfulness and the process of sleep itself. Standard physician care was used as a control comparison to the CBT treatment in this study.

The results, recently summarized in the British Medical Journal, showed a marked reduction in symptoms related to the targeted mental illnesses when compared with usual care. At ten weeks into the trial, scores on the Sleep Condition Indicator tests were almost five points lower on average, signaling the efficiency of CBT sessions. Paranoia and hallucinations were lower as well, and an analysis of the data showed that improved sleep was the key. However, it should be noted that this study did not document any long-term follow-ups or put a cap on its trial time.

This was the largest study of this kind and clinicians are confident that treating sleep quality first in a wider study will continue to reveal how well a person’s sleep plays a larger role in their mental health. The lead author of the study, Dr. Freeman, summed up the importance of the results: “When it comes to psychological disorders, sleep problems are very much the poor relation. For too long insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom, languishing way down in the league table of problems to be tackled. However, how well we sleep might actually play a role in our mental health.”

Written by Cooper Powers, BSc


Mayor, Susan. Better sleep may reduce mental illness symptoms, study finds. BMJ. 2017 September 07. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j4163

Freeman D, Sheaves B, Goodwin GM, et al. “The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis.” Lancet Psychiatry 2017. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30328-0.

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