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mental health mondays :: the psychology of sleeplessness

why, you might ask, am i writing mental health mondays on a tuesday? you might just have assumed that i was being lazy yesterday and often that's exactly the reason, but this week, i have an excuse. sunday night, after a nice relaxing break from work, i had one of the worst cases of insomnia i've had in months. not that many months, mind you, because i've been blindsided by a few bouts of completely inexplicable insomnia several times in the last six months or so, where for no discernible reason, i just can't get to sleep.


sunday was bad because i actually got no sleep whatsoever. not even a nap. not even that foggy near-sleep state. around 7:30 in the morning, i started to feel like i could sleep, but nothing before then. i wasn't especially stressed about any one thing, wasn't preoccupied with a creative project, wasn't suffering the effects of medication or indigestion or experiencing rebound wakefulness after an earlier nap. in fact, i'd had a nice walk earlier in the day, i'd eaten at a reasonable hour and i gave myself time to rest in bed before turning off the lights and deciding it was time for sleep. but within about ten minutes of the lights going off, i had a horrible premonition. this isn't working it said. i could feel that i was immediately, comfortably awake. not agitated, not hyper, but awake.

insomnia is an infrequent inconvenience for most people, a somewhat more regular guest for others, but science is increasingly sounding the alarm that lack of sleep is not just something that leaves you feeling grouchy and out of sorts. it can be flat-out dangerous in both the long and short term to our psychological well-being.

you might feel that being sleep deprived makes you stupid[er]. and you'd be wrong. but it does effect your cognitive abilities, which means that while you might not know less, you're less capable of discerning how to use what you know.

although it's unlikely to happen to you, sleep deprivation has been known to trigger psychosis in people with absolutely no history of mental illness.

however, there is disturbing evidence that the chicken and egg debate about whether psychological disorders precede sleep disorders or vice versa.

there is plenty of medical evidence, of course, that sleep deprivation has a close link to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, since proper sleep allows the regulation and production of monoamines [serotonin, norepinephrine and histamine], which are in turn responsible for proper mood balance. all of the antidepressants you've ever heard of modify these particular substances [plus dopamine, but that's a different column].

so the fact is that i didn't get around to writing "mental health mondays" on monday because i was mental. so there.

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