Cutting Edge Psychology

How important is sleep?

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 11:40 PM

In The HIdden Psychology of Pain, i dedicate a chapter to problems relating to sleep as this is often a major side effect of chronic pain. There are many things which people can do to improve their quality of sleep, and these are detailed in the book.

But how important is it to get good sleep? Researchers in the UK have recently demonstrated the psycological harm which can accrue to people who are deprived of even one night of sleep. Subjects in the research study began to show psychological symptoms that were similar to schizophrenia after only 24 hours of sleep deprivation. As stated in my book, it appears that the psychological benefits of sleep arise from the stae of sleep which is associated with dreaming- the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. Other research has demonstrated that when people are able to get all the stages of sleep other than REM sleep, they begin to suffer psychologically, even though that may have obtained enough non-REM sleep in order to still function.

Our culture is essentially REM deprived. All substances which effect the central nervous system , eg. alcohol, cannabis, sleeping tablets,  anti-depressant drugs, inhibit our brain's ability to engage in REM sleep. In terms of alcohol, a person need only have as little as two standard drinks to have their REM sleep heavily curtailed. On average, Australians consume around 15 standard drinks of alcohol per week, meaning that the average Australian is inhibiting his/her capacity for REM sleep. Around one in twenty Australians are on anti-depressant drugs, some of which inhibit 100% of REM sleep, with others inhibiting less amounts. As such, it appears that most people are simply not getting enough REM sleep, so important for psychological well-being, even though they may be sleeping 'enough' hours per night. When you consider the research (see link below), this is frightening. Not many of us will be so sleep deprived that we are propelled towards psychotic-type symptoms, but it appears that many, if not most of us are REM sleep deprived enough to be causing us psychological problems.

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