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The Impact of Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia: Neurocognition and Therapy

Image courtesy of Habitat.

It is common knowledge that getting 8 or more hours of sleep is highly recommended in order to function properly. But, getting the proper amount of sleep in today’s society seems close to impossible. In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 63% of Americans reported getting 6 or less hours of sleep every night. This study strengthens the statement that Americans are in fact sleep deprived. The real question is, what effect does sleep deprivation have on our mental health? The so-called chicken-or-egg relationship between mental health and sleep has been debated for a long time. The overlap between lack of sleep and psychological affliction can make it hard to determine if lack of sleep leads to mental health concerns or vice versa. 

Insomnia and sleep deprivation can be significant factors in developing psychological disorders or worsening current mental states. Therefore this article will discuss the long term toll that insomnia and sleep deprivation can have on our mental health as well as the treatment options used to improve sleep habits. 

The Deprived and The Insomniac

Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia Defined

Sleep deprivation is a blanket term defined as receiving an insufficient amount of sleep over an extended period of time. Sleep deprivation can be caused by a number of factors. Some of those factors include extensive technology use at night, underlying psychological conditions, stress, environmental stimuli, and many more. Sustaining an inadequate amount of sleep can be linked to both the development and prolongment of mental health disorders. 

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary.

  • Primary Insomnia: Sleepiness that cannot be attributed to any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Secondary Insomnia: Sleepiness arises from primary medical conditions, mental health disorders, or sleep disorders. 

Primary Insomnia may not be linked directly to any pre-existing medical conditions or psychological disorders, but has been shown to increase the risk of developing issues such as depression. Secondary Insomnia is a symptom or side effect of an emotional, neurological, or medical disorder. Traditionally, clinicians treating patients with psychiatric disorders have observed insomnia and sleep deprivation as symptoms of these disorders. 

Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia


A study conducted at Harvard found that 65 to 90% of adults with depression and 90% of children with depression suffer from sleep problems such as sleep deprivation and Insomnia. Research also suggests that the risk of developing depression is highest in people who suffer from Insomnia. Depression not only affects the way a person feels but also how they think and can be associated with chronic health issues such as heart disease. Symptoms of depression can vary based on each specific case, but the following is a list of common symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Thoughts of death 
  • Loss of energy
  • Insomnia 

Bipolar Disorder

Another study conducted at Harvard found that 69 to 99% of patients experience insomnia during a manic bipolar episode. These patients feel that there is no need for sleep and will experience insomnia or other sleep disorders before and during a manic episode. Lack of sleep can also trigger mania in bipolar patients. Sleep abnormalities may distinguish bipolar disorder from other psychopathologies. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

  • Increased activity
  • Decreased need for sleep 
  • Distractibility

Insomnia and sleep deprivation is common in someone who suffers from Bipolar disorder. This picture indicates the dualistic experience of both a depressive and manic state. Image courtesy of Silicon Beach Treatment Center.

Generalized Anxiety Disorders

Sleep disturbances affect more than 50% of adult patients with a variety of anxiety disorders. Insomnia offers a huge risk in developing an anxiety disorder and can worsen symptoms of an anxiety disorder while also preventing recovery. Anxiety disorders that are put into this generalized category of experiencing insomnia include:

  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Panic Disorders
  • Phobias


Various sleep problems affect 25 to 50% of children with ADHD, according to a study conducted at Harvard. Sleep difficulties in individuals with this disorder are more commonly seen in children rather than adults. These children have reported having a longer time falling asleep as well as a shorter duration in the sleep-wake cycle due to having to get up early for school. A child’s reaction to lack of sleep may be shown as:

  • Moodiness
  • Explosiveness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hyperactive

Neurocognitive Behavioral Therapy and Other Treatments

Treating Sleep Disorders with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, TMS, and Other Treatments

This image depicts an analogy of a brain before and after cognitive therapy. Image courtesy of Critical Thinking For Success.

There are many psychological and behavioral techniques that have been shown to improve quality of sleep. If you’re looking to change both your sleep patterns and protect your mental health, lifestyle changes as well as different treatment options are highly recommended. Finding ways to improve both the quality and amount of sleep can be helpful in relieving symptoms of predisposed psychological disorders as well as improving one’s mental state. 

Neurocognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapeutic technique used to treat insomnia. This technique helps the insomniac change certain actions and thoughts that could be harmful to a good night’s rest. Some common forms of CBT include stimulus controls, sleep restrictions, relaxation training, and sleep hygiene. A stimulus control is a CBT method that teaches the individual with insomnia to only use the bed for sleep or sex. Outside stimuli such as watching television or using a cellphone late at night are prohibited. This method helps the insomniac fall asleep more quickly once they get into bed. 

Sleep restrictions is a method that sets strict limits on the amount of time spent in bed. This method will help you fall asleep faster and wake up less times during the night. Relaxation training is a technique used to relax both the body and mind. A few control methods for relaxation training include breathing, mental focusing, and muscle relaxation. Finally, sleep hygiene is used to correct behaviors that are performed on a regular basis that disturb sleep. For example, if someone drinks a cup of coffee before bedtime on a daily basis this behavior should be stopped in order to improve quality of sleep. 

TMS Therapy

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive tool used to treat depression and other brain disorders. TMS has also seen a phenomenon of sleep regularization. After applying magnetic stimulation to individuals who suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, there was an improvement in sleep behaviors. This tool uses the magnetic stimulation to work directly on an enhancement of the quality of sleep an individual receives. Sleep quality, time falling asleep, amount of sleep, and functioning during the day all improved for patients in a 2013 research study who all received courses of TMS treatments. 

If you’re looking for a company who specializes in TMS therapy, GRW Health might be the perfect fit for you. GRW uses TMS therapy treatments as an innovative way to overcome depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders. As seen earlier in this article, these disorders are common in causing insomnia. Using TMS has been proven to improve sleep, so if you are suffering from insomnia GRW is only a call away. 

NeuroStar Advanced Therapy TMS is used by GRW as a safe, non-invasive way to treat patients with depression and other mental health issues. Image courtesy of NeuroStar

Lifestyle Changes

A simple answer to insomnia and sleep deprivation may be as simple as key lifestyle changes. This recommended treatment is the same for all individuals suffering from insomnia regardless of underlying psychological problems. Lifestyle changes may include giving up alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and other substances that are seen as depressants and stimulants. Cutting these items out of the picture or avoiding them before bedtime is the best for an improved night’s sleep. 

Physical activity has also been shown to help people fall asleep faster at bedtime and wake up fewer times during the night. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation can counter anxious feelings and racing thoughts many may feel before going to sleep. These changes may contribute to an improved sleep schedule as well as an improved mental state. 

How Important is Sleep to Our Mental Health?

The answer to this question is simple. Sleep is just as important for our bodies as eating, drinking, and breathing. Sleep allows the body and mind to restart. Sleep is essential in building resilience as a way to deal with the pressures of everyday life. A good night’s sleep helps foster a great emotional and physical foundation. Overall, sleep is very important for our mental health. If you are looking for treatment options to better improve both the quality and quantity of sleep, GRW health may be the answer you are looking for.