- Exploring the latest sleep research can help mental health providers provide comprehensive care to their patients and address behavioral issues related to sleep.
- Current research shows a connection between sleep problems and obesity, comorbidities, and issues with emotional processing.
- As a therapist, you can use insights from sleep studies to inform treatment approaches and help your patients improve their mental health.
March is National Sleep Awareness Month, the perfect time for therapists to brush up on the latest sleep research to provide high-level patient care. With new insights emerging on the connection between sleep and mental health, knowing the current research findings can help you provide comprehensive care to your patients so they can improve their mental health and achieve their personal goals.
Latest Sleep Research to Support Your Practice
Sleep research is an ever-evolving field, with new studies constantly shedding light on the importance of sleep for physical and mental health. As a healthcare practitioner, staying up-to-date with the latest research is crucial to provide the best care for your patients.
Recent studies highlight the importance of sleep and its impact on various aspects of health. Here are some highlights.
Adolescents, Sleep, and Obesity
Research consistently shows that insufficient sleep impacts appetite and weight management. Individuals who consistently do not get enough sleep are at a higher risk of becoming obese or overweight due to changes in the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite and metabolism. Poor sleep quality and duration can also lead to increased snacking and unhealthy food choices.
Research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in 2022 suggested that adolescents may be at a greater risk of sleep deprivation, resulting in obesity. The study found that only 34% of 12-year-old and 19% of 16-year-old participants slept at least eight hours per night. Compared with participants who slept an optimal eight hours, the study found short-sleepers to be overweight or obese up to 72% of the time, depending on age.
The study also suggested increased screen time may contribute to poor sleep length and quality.
Sleep and Comorbidities in Older Adults
Sleep deprivation is a common problem among older adults, with approximately 30% of older adults getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep is associated with a range of comorbidities in older adults, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.
A 2022 longitudinal study on adults between 50 and 70 years of age assessed the role of sleep duration and the prevalence of multiple chronic diseases. The study found that short sleep duration at age 50 increased the risk of developing a chronic disease, such as cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, or dementia, by 20%.
Sleep and Emotional Processing
A 2022 study found new therapeutic targets for treating mental health issues like PTSD. The study on mice found that nerve cell dendrites and axons are decoupled during REM sleep. Dendrites responsible for emotional input are active while the body rests, and axons, which control output, are inactive.
Heightened dendrite activity during sleep allows for neural encoding of safety emotions and blocks emotional overreaction to danger. This is crucial for allowing the brain to recognize the difference between safe and dangerous stimuli.
If people do not get enough quality REM sleep, their bodies cannot discriminate between dangerous and safe signals, leading to an excessive fear reaction. This may be expressed as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study results indicate that therapies targeting sleep quality may help treat patients with anxiety and stress-related mental health conditions.
Sleep and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with one person dying every 34 seconds of a heart-related condition. While diet, activity level, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, are well-known risk factors for cardiovascular conditions, sleep quantity and quality may also play a role in the development of the disease.
A 2023 study on shift workers found that participants with irregular sleep duration were more likely to have significant systemic atherosclerosis and more coronary artery calcium and plaque in their carotid arteries.
The researchers suggest that disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm, which controls sleep and other essential body functions, including metabolism and digestion, may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. Healthcare practitioners can help lower their patients’ heart disease risk by implementing a treatment plan to improve sleep regularity.
Insomnia and Light
The body’s circadian rhythm is controlled by hormones released due to light exposure. People who receive less daytime light may have trouble falling and staying asleep at night, potentially leading to insomnia and chronic conditions linked to sleep deprivation.
A 2022 study measuring student sleep patterns found that in the winter, students fell asleep later in the evening and woke up later in the morning. The research team suggests that changes in light quantity during the day recalibrated the students’ circadian rhythms, pushing back their internal clocks to compensate for the lack of light exposure.
The study also showed that light exposure at different times of the day had varying impacts on the body’s circadian rhythm. Early morning light exposure may advance a person’s internal clock, while light exposure in the late afternoon delays it.
The findings may help inform healthcare practitioner treatment plans by encouraging patients to use artificial light boxes in the morning to help treat seasonal sleep disorders.
ClinicSource is a Fully Integrated, Customizable Therapy EMR for Therapists of All Specialties
Providing comprehensive care for your patients requires meticulous documentation and thorough assessments. Using an integrated, cloud-based therapy practice management software ensures you have the tools to support your patients in their mental health journey.
With ClinicSource, you can use customized templates, care plans, and assessments to track patients’ progress and monitor how their sleep impacts their mental and emotional health. The platform uses drop-down menus for diagnosis and evaluation, letting you complete documentation quickly to spend more time offering personalized care.
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