When under stress or in the midst of dealing with a crisis, sleep problems are often one of the first symptoms to emerge. Adults can have trouble getting their minds to settle down so that they can get to sleep. Children may begin experiencing nightmares or regress in their sleep habits. They may suddenly find it difficult to sleep in their own room and want to bed up with their parents, or they may wake up several times during the night and need parental assistance. Children, too, can suffer from stress-related insomnia.
How sleep problems affect our emotions & mental health
Making matters worse, not only can stressful life events create sleep problems, but sleep problems can also aggravate a person's trauma symptoms, stress, or depression, creating a self-reinforcing cycle that makes it difficult to cope.
Sleep deprivation causes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to rise, further feeding into negative thought patterns. If a person is already dealing with something stressful, raising their stress levels further will only make their other problems that much more difficult to manage. Problems that disrupt our normal sleep cycles, meanwhile, rob a person of REM sleep, making it more difficult to consolidate memories and "get our head straight" so to speak. Sleep is when the mind reorganizes and repairs itself. (Tonini & Cirelli, 2013) When this process suffers, so does our mental health.
The link between sleep problems and mental health disorders
Thanks to a plethora of research in recent years, a lack of sleep is now emerging as a potential factor in a number of psychological problems and mental illnesses. For example: