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Sleeplessness and Mental Health

Updated on December 15, 2017
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Chris spent 10 years learning how to support his wife in her battle with breast cancer. He shares openly about his successes and failures.


The Realm of the Insomniac

Between those late hours of the night when we tell ourselves we’ve simply stayed up a little late and the early hours of the morning when we realize it’s going to be a long, miserable day, is the realm of the insomniac. Some only visit here for a short time as they deal with a particular stressful situation. Others live here, night in and night out, month after month, even year after year.

I’ve been in that sub-dimension of time where everyone around me lies in sweet somnolence while I lie to myself that I can go on indefinitely with little or no sleep. This type of sleeplessness, which is characterized by the apparent absence of a cause, is a sleep disorder known as idiopathic insomnia.


Sleeplessness and Cognitive Impairment

Even though I was able to continue writing, it was clear that my cognitive abilities in other areas had suffered as a result of a sleep disorder. The simplest mental tasks became difficult. The only way I was able to continue working was to take extra precautions to eliminate errors. In medical terms, this is known as cognitive impairment. What is cognitive impairment? According to the Center for Disease Control,

Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Cognitive impairment ranges from mild to severe. With mild impairment, people may begin to notice changes in cognitive functions, but still be able to do their everyday activities. Severe levels of impairment can lead to losing the ability to understand the meaning or importance of something and the ability to talk or write, resulting in the inability to live independently.

Other Causes of Sleeplessness and Cognitive Impairment

In addition to idiopathic insomnia, two other causes of sleeplessness which lead to daytime drowsiness and cognitive impairment are sleep apnea and Restless Legs Syndrome which was recently renamed Willis-Ekbom Disease by the American Medical Association. Both of these require medical attention. Air pressure changes from moving to a higher altitude can cause sleeplessness in some people. There can also be psychological causes of sleeplessness, such as depression.

I want to share my own experience, so I will leave some of these issues for others. My experience has been with idiopathic insomnia, Restless Legs Syndrome/Willis-Ekbom Disease (RLS/WEB) and sleep apnea, specifically, central sleep apnea.

Polysomnography, a Sleep Study


Willis-Ekbom Disease, Formerly Known as Restless Legs Syndrome

When a person is suffering from daytime sleepiness and cognitive impairment, a sleep study, called Polysomnography, is used to record brain waves, oxygen level in blood, heart rate, breathing, eye movement and leg movement while the patient is sleeping. The result of this sleep study might be the diagnosis of RLS/WEB and/or sleep apnea.

First, let’s get a good understanding of the terribly misunderstood condition known as RLS/WEB. It is not the involuntary movement of the legs. That is a different condition. RLS/WEB is characterized by pain, or intense neurologic sensations primarily in the lower legs. Some, such as myself, have this condition in our arms and even in our gums and tongue. For the legs, the person must get on their feet and walk. They can’t ignore this pain. Little children who suffer with this are restless, unable to sit for long periods of time. My parents would take me out of church services and spank me for being so squirmy, not realizing I could not help myself. And I wasn’t able to explain it. RLS/WEB disrupts sleep for many and leads to cognitive impairment.

What can be done for RLS/WEB? The first line of treatment is Magnesium. Many say that chelated magnesium is the most readily absorbed form of this mineral. This means that the magnesium is chemically bound to negative ions which allows it to be more easily absorbed out of the intestines into the body’s cells. Chelated magnesium is more expensive, but reportedly works much better.

Another form of treatment for RLS/WEB is the use of drugs designed for Parkinson’s Disease patients. One such drug is Pramipexole (Mirapex). I have been using this drug for several years and it is effective. One of the side effects can be compulsive behavior, something to watch for if you choose this option. Another drug used for RLS/WEB is Requip (Ropinirole HCL)

Restless Legs Syndrome/Willis-Ekbom Disease

Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea, which can also lead to cognitive impairment, is caused when the brain fails to send messages that control breathing. The person with this condition will simply stop breathing during sleep for extended periods. Central sleep apnea is different than obstructive sleep apnea which is caused by a blockage of the airway. People with obstructive sleep apnea cannot breath. Those with central sleep apnea can breath, but don’t. Both of these conditions can lead to sleeplessness and cognitive impairment.

Following the polysomnography, a patient will be prescribed the appropriate form of treatment. The treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a device known as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). This is a mask that is worn during sleep and provides oxygen to the airway. The treatment for centralized sleep apnea is a BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) which gently forces oxygen into the airway.

Nighttime Sleeplessness and Daytime Drowsiness Go Hand in Hand


Cutting sleep from 7 to 5 hours or fewer per night doubled the risk of death by all causes (British study)

Negative Outcomes of Sleeplessness

Cognitive impairment is one consequence of sleeplessness. Here is a list of other negative outcomes of insomnia.

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Decreased alertness
  • Errors in judgement
  • Minimize or ignore the effects lack of sleep is having on them.
  • Death-A British study revealed that cutting sleep from 7 to 5 hours or fewer per night doubled the risk of death of all causes.
  • Poor health-Heart disease, heart attack/failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity
  • Automobile accidents-The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for more than100,000 auto accidents, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths per year.
  • Injuries
  • Quality of life-Too tired to do the things one loves
  • Less interest in sex
  • Decreased release of cortisol by body leading to unhealthy skin
  • Decreased release of human growth hormone affecting muscle, skin and bone health
  • Long term memory loss
  • Stress on relationships
  • More than doubles the risk of occupational injury
  • Attention Deficit Disorder

Coffee and Sleeplessness


A Proactive Strategy to Overcoming Sleeplessness

A proactive strategy is essential to overcoming insomnia and might incorporate the following:

  • Deal with the source of the problem-RLS/WEB, sleep apnea, emotional stress
  • See your personal physician
  • See a professional counselor
  • Allow yourself to fall asleep only in your bed
  • Don’t read, watch TV or use a laptop in bed
  • Practice some sort of relaxation technique, e.g. Meditation/Yoga
  • Consider natural, non-narcotic sleep aids such as melatonin or Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is a vegetable based, over-the-counter supplement and is a potent sleep aid.
  • Avoid these top ten foods that promote insomnia-Taken from an article on (See complete article for full explanations).
  1. Caffeine
  2. Alcohol
  3. Dark chocolate
  4. Greasy/fatty foods
  5. Red meat
  6. High carb/sugary foods
  7. Spicy foods
  8. Ice cream
  9. Veggies
  10. Oats

Evaluating the Quality of Your Life

I want to ask those who are suffering with sleeplessness a few questions. My goal is that by answering, you will begin to truly evaluate the state of your life.

1. At what level are you functioning in your personal life regarding the following?

A. Cleaning and maintaining your home and property.

B. Maintaining your automobile

C. Maintaining relationships with family and friends

D. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise

E. Personal hygiene.

2. At what level are you functioning at work?

A. Have you received warnings regarding the quality of your work?

B. Do you use more sick time than those around you, or more than you used to use?

C. Has your employer threatened you with the loss of your job?


I know about the hopeless feeling that so permeates our minds that we simply sit back in our recliners and watch the clock tick off the hours until another day begins.

The First Steps Back into the Mainstream of Life

Do your answers suggest a happy, healthy person who is living life to its fullest every day, or do they reveal a mere existence, a life barely being lived? At some point, we who suffer with sleeplessness must honestly answer these kinds of questions.

Here are two suggestions one might use to begin moving toward a normal lifestyle regarding sleep. Either one could be taken first.

  1. Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your sleeplessness.
  2. Make an appointment with a professional counselor to discuss your sleeplessness.

Your doctor and the counselor will have different ways of handling the issue, so don’t hesitate to take both of these steps.

I can relate to those who suffer with sleeplessness. I know about the hopeless feeling that so permeates our minds that we simply sit back in our recliners and watch the clock tick off the hours until another day begins. But life does not have to go on like this. There is help available if you will take the first step, then the second and third, until you have walked back into the mainstream of life.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Cool Hub! :)

      I enjoyed reading it very much, especially because I suffered from sleeplessness often, especially in stressful times where you need your healthy sleep.

      But following your advices helped pretty good :)

      And sometimes I try one of those ASMR videos, they look a little bit strange, but they work very well for me^^

      Thanks for your advices again :)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      My biggest problem is falling asleep, unless of course it's three o'clock on the afternoon or I'm watching a boring movie.

      My doctor twice prescribed a sleep test, but I never went. Now that I'm retired, the afternoon nap seems to make up for the lack of sleep at night.

      Well done here with lots of good information.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      5 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I get a pretty regular six and a half to seven hours a night. I can cope with less for about a week but it 'ain't gonna be pretty' and I eventually crash out.

      One thing that does affect me and I have to be careful of on my days off is when I have coffee or tea! Any later than 2pm and I'm not going to sleep until about 3am and considering I'm usually up by 5.30am you can imagine the next day!

      Great hub with lots of information


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent article. Sleep is an essential element of a good life. If our world slept more it would be a happier and less productive place. I think we would do well with less getting done.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I was sleepless in a couple of bad relationships which were quite a while ago. Now it has to do with overworking--I'm scheduled split shifts every day, as are several other folks at work. What kills me is the 0800-2030 shifts with a couple of hours off in between three days a week. One guy works 0800-2230 hrs. with three hours off in between shifts twice a week.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      As one who suffers from occasional bouts of insomnia, this well-written article was very helpful! Thank you. :-)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very interesting and helpful hub Chris. I do only get between 4 and 6 hours sleep most nights, occasionally I have a small nap during the day. My wife suffers fibromyalgia and sleep apnea so has to have a CPAP machine. I am often up writing or reading until very late, but it doesn't matter what time I go to sleep I always wake up at 6.30 to 7.00 am....never later. Seems I need to get more sleep if I am to avoid all these health problems that can result.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      5 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Yes, Chris. He does that since some years. He learnt it from his mother. She some years tied cloths to get rid of sleeplessness. Then adopted to applying oil. Sometimes, she did both things.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Venkatachari M, Your son ties socks around his feet to fight off the bad sensations of RLS? That is a treatment I have never heard. I used to go outside in the winter and stand barefoot in the snow to numb my legs so I could fall asleep. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      5 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very useful article. My wife used to suffer from restless legs and I used to apply oil to her feet before sleep. My son also feels restless and ties socks around his feet for a good sleep.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ruby, 8 or 9 hours of sleep would be heaven. That will be my goal, to sleep 8 hours nonstop at some point in the near future. Thanks for coming by.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Shauna, it is awful to not be able to sleep, or to go back to sleep after waking up having slept only an hour or two. I've gotten some relief, but I'm still fighting it to some extent. I appreciate your comment.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Christine, sounds for healing insomnia. It sounds like something someone should write a hub about :) Good comment. Thanks for visiting.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      MsDora I hope those decisions can be made quickly and your sleep issues are resolved. Thanks for reading.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I guess I'm lucky. I sleep 8-9 hours nightly. My son has sleep apnea. Good to know about mint. I like mint hard candy. Informative and well written hub. I'm glad you found help..

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Will do. Thanks.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Sleeplessness can certainly bring you to some odd places.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Chris, it must be awful to not be able to sleep. I usually wake up for a brief moment in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom), but fall right back to sleep.

      Nevertheless, this article is very informative and will undoubtedly help those who have trouble sleeping.

    • profile image


      5 years ago


      I can't imagine what it would be like to have insomnia. What's your take on sounds for healing insomnia?

      I am a very active thinker; and sleep well.

      Your article states in the beginning "deal with a particular stressful situation"- I've had those.

      I've explored brain entrainment this year using Sleep Solutions Ultimate Collection 2015. Last year a friend initiated helping me understand why he used sound to help him in general sleep order; he did not have a sleep disorder.

      Like him, I've discovered sound to be very helpful in augmenting my good sleep; perhaps making it better to cope when things get stressful.



    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the information and helpful suggestions on this topic. Right n0w I am affected with sleeplessness because of nighttime problems in my role as caregiver. I have some decisions to make while I still can.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ann, if you ever want to try getting rid of those leg pains, try the magnesium I mentioned in the article. I don't know if it is RLS/WED, but if it is, that would take care of it. I appreciate your comment. Personal experience in these matters does make a difference.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Excellent explanation with the perfect amount of relevant information. I found it fascinating. I, thankfully, do not suffer from any of these conditions although sometimes my legs have pains that I can't get rid of and I have to get up for a while but I think that's just age! It isn't a constant thing.

      It's great when these type of articles are written from first hand experience; only then do we know that the person really understands what s/he is talking about.


    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Herbert, Thanks for sharing this personal account of your experience of using mint leaves for a certain prostate problem. I will look at your comment and see if I can come up with something for an article. From what you have shared, that should not be difficult to do. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Herbert Wickramarachchi 

      5 years ago

      After suffering from prostrate enlargement that caused frequent urination I had a temporary release by trimming the prostrate.That lasted for two years.Then my Urologist decided to remove the prostrate.In the operation theatre this procedure had to be abandoned because of severe bradycardia .

      I was asked to come back after installing a pacemaker

      However , thanks to a advice from a friend of mine I started eating few leaves of MINT at night along with the dinner. My prostrate became NORMAl within four weeks. PSA now is below 2. No need of removing the prostrate

      Plese pubish this for the benefit of Prostrate Patients and let us kmow how MINT Leaves can work for them too


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