Why are sleep disorders listed as mental illnesses?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

View of dreamland.

Dreamland.

What are Sleep-Wake Disorders?

Are problems with sleeping or staying awake making a mess of your life? Then you may have a sleep-wake disorder on top of all your other problems. Why does this matter? Because an untreated sleep-wake disorder will make all your other problems worse.

These issues turn up in the therapist or mental health counselor’s office when people start talking about their concerns with both the quality and the quantity of their sleep. Often this is because those sleep issues are impacting their wide-awake life. When sleep issues start interfering with your job, relationship, or just plain making you not care anymore it needs attention.

This group of disorders sits at the intersection of mental and physical problems and reminds us that the distinction between body and mind is not all that clear-cut. The nervous system connects with the limbic system so your thoughts and feelings impact your immune system. Your body’s physical ailments affect your mood.

With the introduction of the DSM-5 clinicians in the mental health, area are getting a chance to take another look at the connections between sleep and mental health. One rule for therapists is to not be practicing medicine. If a therapist has any doubts, they should refer you to a medical doctor to get a purely medical cause of your issues ruled out or treated before using a primarily talk method to help you.

Some sleep disorder problems can best be determined by sleep specialists. These issues look differently when you try to describe them the next day versus when you are being monitored in a sleep lab and they can be detected right then and there. Your diagnosis may depend on whether the problem occurs during REM sleep or non-REM sleep. Even medical doctors can’t get this part sometimes without sleep tests. The International Classification of Sleep disorders – 2 is far more exhaustive than the DSM or other possible lists, but it requires a sleep specialist to run tests to get this right.

Poor sleep can be a symptom of a mental disorder. Changes in sleep and appetite are one of the things that professionals look for in diagnosing depressive disorders. But poor sleep is not specific to depression or any one particular mental disorder. Sleep-wake cycle disorders affect a host of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Poor sleep, especially distressing dreams, bad dreams, and nightmares have been connected to depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, substance use disorder, substance withdrawal, an increase in suicide risk, PTSD, and non-suicidal self-injury also known as cutting.

While poor sleep is found in conjunction with a lot of mental illnesses, it has also been suspected to cause mental illnesses. For example, nightmares are a key factor in maintaining Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) Having frequent distressing dreams in childhood predicts the development of an anxiety disorder 5 years later. While nightmares and bad dreams may change and decline as you age, the majority of people who will get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder will have symptoms in middle school at just the time disturbing dreams are at their worst.

Sleep problems are also connected to behavioral problems. Children who are treated for behavioral issues also have nightmares or bad dreams on a regular basis. People with insomnia are at risk to have more nightmares and more nightmares increase the risk of developing a stress-related disorder like PTSD.

It is easy for a therapist or counselor to overlook sleep-wake disorders. If you have depression or anxiety, those sleep issues may be considered symptoms of your depression or anxiety. Make sure you mention the sleep problems to your therapist. If you have sleep-wake cycle problems, whether they are caused by another mental illness or not, if they bother you they should get diagnosed and treated along with the other issue.

Some Nightmares are harder to treat than others. The ones found in PTSD about things that have really happened to you are harder to get rid of than other bad dreams, but there are treatments for these nightmares that do work. Bad dreams based on generalized anxiety have been treated in children with as little as one therapy session. There will be more on treatments for sleep-wake cycle issues in upcoming posts.

Here is the list of Sleep-Wake disorders based on the DSM with their most current numbers.

Scary list isn’t it? For a full discussion, you would need to check out the APA’s book DSM-5. I will try to give you the short plain language versions of these issues in upcoming posts.

Sleep-Wake Disorders

Insomnia Disorder 780-52 (G47.00)

Hypersomnolence 780.54 (G47.10)

Narcolepsy (subtypes/specifiers have different numbers.)

Breathing-Related Sleep Disorders

Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Hypopnea 327.23 (G47.33)

Central Sleep Apnea (subtypes/specifiers have different numbers.)

Sleep-Related Hypoventilation (subtypes/specifiers have different numbers.)

Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders (subtypes/specifiers have different numbers.)

Parasomnias

Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders

Nightmare Disorder 307.47 (F51.5)

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior disorder 327.42 (G47.52)

Restless Legs Syndrome 33.94 (G25.81)

Substance/Medication-Induced Sleep Disorder (you need a number chart for this one)

Other Specified/ Other unspecified – Insomnia/ Hypersomnolence or Sleep-Wake Disorder (6 total)

Which sleep-wake disorders are mental health issues?

Some of these disorders are pretty straightforward, some are medical issues, some are psychological and a few are mixed, other sleep-wake disorders are even more complex. Nightmare disorder is a good example of the confusion. In common speech, nightmares are those bad dreams you have that upset you. In technical terms, bad dreams, nightmares, night terrors are all different things, sometimes. Even the researchers use different definitions in their articles.

In coming posts let’s look at the various sleep-wake disorders and treatments for them. Until then sleep well or consider getting help.

You might want to take a look at other posts on:

Sleep

Dreams and Nightmares 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Do you have Nightmare Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Nightmare

Nightmares maintain depression and PTSD.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Do you have bad dreams or is that a Nightmare Disorder?

We know there are connections between sleep, sleep disruptions, and a number of mental illnesses. The connection between nightmares and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is fairly well-recognized. Dreams related to your trauma is one of the symptoms of PTSD. What often goes unnoticed is just how connected poor sleep and having a mental or physical health issue can be.

Sleep disturbances can be both the result of and the cause of significant life problems. Many people ignore their bad dreams and nightmares. You shouldn’t. Disturbed sleep may be a warning that something much worse is on its way. Some of these issues can threaten your life and your sanity. Frequent nightmares increase the risk someone will attempt suicide. Drinking to shut off the nightmares increases the suicide risk even more.

Nightmare Disorder is included as a Mental Disorder in the DSM-5.

Nightmares fall along a continuum which runs from an occasional upsetting dream through frequent bad dreams that leave you feeling upset when you wake up, to those severe things like Nightmares, and ends at the point of Sleep Terror Disorder where people wake up screaming. Sleep Terror Disorder along with Sleep Walking was combined in the DSM-5 getting the new name Non-Rapid Eye Movement Disorders, but that’s a topic that needs to wait for a future post.

Bad sleep is a symptom found in several other mental Illnesses so sleep disorders get little attention from most Therapists. Given the human tendency to pretend there is nothing wrong with us until we hit the wall so to speak, it is not surprising a lot of sleep disorders go undiagnosed or get diagnosed as something else.

Nightmare Disorder is part of a group of conditions called Sleep-Wake Disorders.

Sleep-Wake disorders do not get diagnosed or treated by therapists of counselors all that often. Usually, sleep problems get one of two problematic treatments. They could be referred to a sleep disorder specialist who uses the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-2) with its myriad subcategories. The other possibility is that sleep disorders are often taken as a symptom of a more common mental illness.

Poor sleep could be anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Nightmares or Bad Dreams can be a part of some anxiety disorders. Changes in sleep and appetite are key symptoms of depression. But just having bad dreams in and of itself does not automatically get you an anxiety or depression diagnosis.

Many nightmares are a part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders are such major factors in mental health that the Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders now have their own DSM chapter. Bad dreams and nightmares are one major factor in PTSD and other similar disorders that once you say you have bad dreams expect the professional to ask about any trauma history and any recent or current stressors.

If you have PTSD or another Trauma-Stress related issue nightmares are likely, but just because you have bad dreams does not mean you have PTSD. When I decide to write this post on Nightmare Disorder I looked up a hundred or so recent research articles on Nightmares and Bad Dreams. The largest part, a strong majority of those articles, were about Nightmares in people with PTSD. But there were a bunch of other mental health conditions that were connected to poor sleep also.

Nightmares and Bad dreams are connected to Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, DID, GAD, and aging.

That is only part of the list. OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, DID is Dissociative Identity Disorder and GAD is for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Each of these diagnoses has related OCD like, Dissociative and Anxiety Disorders.

All these related disorders including bad dreams of one kind or another which makes me wonder if many people with one mental illness should also be getting a diagnosis of Nightmare Disorder. That and sleep disorders are one of the factors leading to the development of other mental health issues. In that vein, sleep disorders also greatly increase the risk of relapse in those with a substance use disorder.

What are the symptoms of Nightmare Disorder?

For the full text of the symptom see the official DSM-5 but here is my short, plain language version.

  1. Frequent, upsetting, bad dreams that really scare you.
  2. You can wake up quickly.
  3. These bad dreams are getting in the way of you living your life (family friends, job, etc.)
  4. Drugs, alcohol, or another mental illness are not the best explanation for why this is happening.

On top of these and a few other more specific criteria, Nightmare Disorder has a bunch of “specifiers” about when how often, and how bad these dreams are.

A word of caution here. This is post is an effort to explain some kind-of complicated stuff. Diagnosis should not be a do-it-yourself project. There are a bunch of other Sleep-Wake Disorders that might also need to be ruled in or out. Some sleep problems are a sign of life-threatening physical conditions. You may also have some other mental issue or guess what?

Your bad dreams may be a normal reaction to some stress in your life right now.

Drinking alcohol to quiet bad dreams is a really bad idea. The amount it takes to knock you out is very close to the amount that will kill you. Especially do not mix alcohol with prescribed sleep or anxiety meds. You can work with your doctor on meds for bad dreams but when the meds wear off the dreams can get worse.

If you are having sleep disruption, bad dreams, nightmares, night terrors, or related sleep problems, talk with your doctor or other professional and see if medication, therapy, or some other treatment might be helpful to you. Don’t put it off. Even normal sleep issues if left untreated can eventually impair your physical or mental health.

You might want to take a look at other posts on:

Sleep

Dreams and Nightmares 

Stay tuned, more on sleep’s connections to mental health, wellness and recovery are coming.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel