Fixing Sleep First

Know now that the mental health bias on sleep disorders is an outdated, overly simplistic, psychiatric or psychological approach, which results in inadequate or incomplete care of sleep disturbances. Sleep specialists treat many patients for sleep disorders who had been improperly diagnosed with mental health problems (most commonly depression),  or the sleep disorder was missed as it coincided with the mental disorder. Sleep specialists often hear discouraging accounts from patients, who were prevented for years or decades from receiving standard sleep medicine therapies at sleep centers, because their doctors or therapists declared their sleep problems mere symptoms of a mental disorder.

Sleep and mental health problems frequently reside on opposite sides of the same coin. Unfortunately, your physicians or therapists may see only one side. In ideal circumstances, sleep specialists and mental health professionals would build bridges toward the other’s respective field, making it easier for patients to cross over into either specialty to receive the maximum therapeutic response from both sleep and mental health treatments.

If you suffered from depression, PTSD or panic attacks for many years along with serious sleep difficulties, then in most cases you were offered a psychiatric perspective about the sleep disturbances. You probably were treated with therapies or medications focusing on mental health or psychological concerns, and scant attention was directed at specific sleep elements. Rarely would you have been offered a full and accurate explanation for why you were not sleeping.

If your psychiatrist or therapist doesn’t put much stock in your sleep problems and doesn’t know how to explain them fully or treat them effectively, how much resolve could you muster to take them seriously?

If your past sleep treatment experiences were limited in this way, your view about sleep would be understandable only through the mental framework with which you were incessantly bombarded. Over time, you would learn to interpret sleep through a prism capable of dividing light into fewer and fewer colors until eventually the only color remaining would be a black hole, into which the mental health community often drops sleep problems.

The same scenario plays out for those with insomnia who do not suffer mental health problems but who attribute sleep disturbances to stress. They are told to relax and take stress reduction classes that supposedly eliminate sleep disturbances, which may be true for mild sleep problems. However, this viewpoint lowers the sleep problem to secondary importance while inappropriately elevating the mental thing, in this instance stress, to primary importance.