Millions of people in the U.S. struggle to get a good night\u2019s sleep on a regular basis.\u00a0 In some cases, insomnia is caused by physical ailments, such as seasonal allergies or chronic pain.\u00a0 For many others, however, sleep disturbances are directly linked to mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.\u00a0 Unfortunately, frequent or chronic insomnia not only tends to make an existing mental health disorder worse, it can also increase your risk of developing a disorder. Every year, as many as 40% of adults will suffer from insomnia at some point. It\u2019s been estimated that as many as nine out of every 10 individuals with depression also struggle with insomnia.\u00a0 Stress and \/ or anxiety contribute to over half of those who have difficulties sleeping. It\u2019s no wonder that medications for sleep are some of the most frequently prescribed by physicians all over the country.\u00a0 Unfortunately, they are also some of the most frequently abused by those desperate for a good night\u2019s sleep. Insomnia caused by a mental health condition will rarely improve or go away until the disorder is properly treated.\u00a0 While sleep medications can help to some degree, they won\u2019t address or \u201cfix\u201d the underlying cause. Mood Disorders Mood disorders are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to insomnia.\u00a0 Depression is one of most frequently diagnosed psychiatric conditions, impacting millions of individuals \u2013 from children to seniors.\u00a0 While there are different types of depression, individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder are the most likely to experience sleep disturbances. Depression With depression, insomnia may manifest in a few ways.\u00a0 One of the most common is early morning wakening.\u00a0 When this occurs, depressed individuals find themselves waking up much earlier than desired \u2013 and then unable to go back to sleep.\u00a0 If your alarm is set for 6 a.m. and you wake up at 4:30 or 5, it\u2019s going to be difficult getting through the day due to insufficient sleep.\u00a0 Difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times throughout the night, and tossing and turning are other ways in which insomnia impacts individuals with depression. When insomnia is a prominent symptom of major depression, it makes other symptoms worse.\u00a0 When you\u2019re depressed, you\u2019re ability to cope is already limited.\u00a0 It\u2019s difficult to think clearly, concentrate and make even simple decisions.\u00a0 Your energy and motivation are already lagging.\u00a0 Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness are often present.\u00a0 Suicidal thoughts may creep in at times.\u00a0 Add insomnia to the mix, and each of these things \u2013 which are troubling enough already - become even more pronounced. Bipolar Disorder Bipolar disorder is another serious mental health condition that can trigger significant insomnia and other serious sleep disturbances.\u00a0 Bipolar disorder typically involves alternative mood episodes, including major depression and mania or hypomania.\u00a0 Some individuals with bipolar disorder may also experience \u201cmixed\u201d mood episodes that include both depressive and manic symptoms at the same time.\u00a0 These mood episodes can last several days to a few weeks. During a period of depression, the sleep disturbances in bipolar disorder are much the same as those listed for depression above.\u00a0 Manic or hypomanic episodes, however, typically disrupt sleep even more severely. Mania is an extreme mood state involves a variety of symptoms.\u00a0 In addition to an unusually elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, a manic or hypomanic person will also display three or more of the following symptoms: \tDecreased need for sleep \tGrandiosity or inflated self-esteem \tTalkativeness or rapid, pressured speech \tRacing thoughts \tAgitation \tA high level of distractibility \tInvolvement in highly pleasurable and risky behaviors (e.g. sleeping with multiple partners, going on an expensive shopping spree ) \tTaking on multiple projects at the same time \tHallucinations or delusions (not part of hypomania) Although the decreased need for sleep is only one of several possible symptoms of mania, it\u2019s rare for someone who\u2019s manic to not exhibit a notable sleep disturbance. Sleep can be severely limited for days on end during a manic episode.\u00a0 Manic individuals often feel rested after just two or three hours or sleep.\u00a0 In some cases, they may not sleep at all for a lengthy period of time.\u00a0 Their sleep deprivation takes a toll both physically and mentally, and as the manic episode comes to an end, they \u201ccrash\u201d and may need significant sleep in order to recuperate both physically and mentally. Anxiety Disorders Anxiety is another major factor for many people who struggle with insomnia.\u00a0 Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and both acute and posttraumatic stress disorders.\u00a0 It\u2019s not uncommon for individuals with depression to also struggle with anxiety, and many individuals with an anxiety disorder often also have at least some symptoms of depression.\u00a0 The combination can make sleep especially difficult. Anxiety makes it very difficult for a person to relax \u2013 both physically and mentally.\u00a0 Individuals with an anxiety disorder are often restless and fidgety.\u00a0 Troubling thoughts in the form of excessive worry and \/ or fear are present much (and sometimes practically all) of the time.\u00a0 When individuals struggling with an anxiety disorder try to sleep, they often find it very hard to \u201cshut off\u201d or quiet their minds.\u00a0 That, combined with tense muscles and a restless, \u201ckeyed-up\u201d feeling, can make falling asleep a very difficult task. Once they do fall asleep, anxious individuals often toss and turn.\u00a0 Although early morning wakening is not usually as common as it is with depression, troubling dreams may also disturb sleep.\u00a0 Nightmares are particularly common with both PTSD and acute stress disorder, further adding to insomnia. As with depression, sleep deprivation makes dealing with anxiety that much more difficult.\u00a0 The worse the insomnia, the worse the symptoms are likely to be. Complications When sleep is often or chronically disrupted, it leads to even more problems.\u00a0 Sleep is restorative.\u00a0 Without sufficient sleep, your body can\u2019t function normally or repair itself adequately.\u00a0 Your immune system is compromised, and hormones \u2013 like cortisol, serotonin, and HGH (human growth hormone) \u2013 become imbalanced.\u00a0 Hormones play a vital role in mood regulation and your overall sense of well-being, so a hormonal imbalance will definitely wreak havoc on everything else.\u00a0 Poor or insufficient sleep can also contribute to unwanted weight gain and stall weight loss efforts. Tips for Improving Sleep There are several things you can do to improve your sleep and overcome \u2013 or at least significantly reduce \u2013 sleep problems.\u00a0 They include: \tDeveloping good \u201csleep hygiene\u201d habits (includes adhering to a regular sleep schedule, keeping your bedroom dark and cool at night, having a relaxing pre-bedtime routine, and avoiding stimulating activities like watching TV (especially the news), using the computer, or arguing or discussing problems with your spouse just before bedtime) \tRegular aerobic exercise (e.g. running, brisk walking, biking, or swimming laps).\u00a0 Regular exercise has also been shown to be very beneficial for both depression and anxiety, and studies have shown that it\u2019s as effective for depressive symptoms as taking an antidepressant. (Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.) \tMeditation (practiced regularly for at least a few minutes each day) \tYoga (most beneficial if practiced regularly) \tRelaxation exercises (such as progressive relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery) \u2013 use these when feeling especially anxious as well as at nighttime \tAvoiding caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and sugar late in the day and especially late in the evening \tManaging and reducing stress Mental Health Treatment If you know or suspect you have a mental health disorder, proper treatment can play a very important role in improving your sleep.\u00a0 The primary treatment for most mental health disorders is psychotherapy.\u00a0 Medication may also be necessary or beneficial, depending on the particular disorder and \/ or the severity of symptoms.\u00a0 For example, bipolar disorder often requires ongoing medication to reduce and control symptoms in general, but especially to reduce the risk of future manic episodes. It is generally not recommended, however, to treat depression or anxiety with medication alone. When medication is used, it is best to do so in conjunction with psychotherapy. While there are many different approaches to psychotherapy, one of the most effective types of therapy for both depression and anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).\u00a0 CBT helps you learn how to identify, manage, and change the negative and irrational thoughts and beliefs that play a significant role in these disorders.\u00a0 Learning how to manage negative or troubling self-talk can be very helpful when it comes to battling insomnia. Medication While medication is rarely, if ever, a good long-term solution for chronic insomnia, it may be necessary in the short term for some individuals. It should always be taken with caution, as some medications used for sleep are potentially addictive.\u00a0 Undesirable side effects are always a potential problem as well, so the benefits versus the costs should always be carefully weighed. There are several different types of medication prescribed to help with sleep: \tPopular newer insomnia medications include Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata. \tBenzodiazepines (such as Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax) are typically prescribed for severe anxiety, and may also be prescribed for sleep.\u00a0 These older drugs can be quite effective, but they have a high risk for dependence and addiction.\u00a0 They are meant for very short-term use only. \tOlder antidepressants, particularly Remeron and Desyrel, are often prescribed for sleep. \tAntipsychotic medications, such as Seroquel, are sometimes prescribed in low doses for insomnia due to their highly sedating effects.\u00a0 However, these powerful drugs (used primarily to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) have many serious potential side effects. When sleep issues are a symptom of a mental health disorder, it\u2019s important to treat the disorder and not just the insomnia itself.\u00a0 Proper mental health treatment, combined with good sleep hygiene and healthy lifestyle habits (such as regular exercise and meditation), will be far more effective in the long-run than medication by itself (or at all in many cases). Get the Help You Deserve If you are having difficulties with your sleep, it\u2019s a good idea to talk to your doctor to rule out any possible underlying medical issues.\u00a0 If nothing is found, then consider having an evaluation by a psychologist or other mental health professional. \u00a0You don\u2019t have to have a specific diagnosis, like major depression or PTSD, to have psychological stressors that are making it difficult to sleep.\u00a0 That doesn\u2019t make you \u201ccrazy\u201d; it just means you\u2019re human.\u00a0 A skilled therapist can help you find ways to effectively manage those stressors and reduce the impact they are having on your sleep \u2013 and on your life. Good sleep is absolutely vital to good health, optimal performance and productivity, and emotional well-being.\u00a0 Don\u2019t let insomnia or other sleep problems rob you of living your best life!