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How much worrying will unbalance healthy sleep?

My question relates to depression. How much worrying do you have to do in order to unbalance the sleep pattern? Do you have to worry about a plethora of issues in order to instigate depression or would constantly ruminating about a certain thing suffice?

If you worry all day about that certain subject, would all those separate arousals need to be 'dreamt out' or would it just be discharged once in the rem state as it's more or less the same thing you've been worrying about?

Also, can brain chemistry cause a person to feel exhausted? Low levels of some chemicals, I mean. I wake up from sleep feeling like I didn't get any. I ruminate and worry all the time, so there's probably a connection there.

This question was submitted by 'Johnny'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi Johnny, this is a great question.

First off, we all (or, at least, most of us, I think) worry some of the time. Worrying is a stimulant, which is why it can keep people awake through the stress hormone cortisol. But it's the unfulfilled expectation of worry that seems to increase REM/dream sleep at night. So, if I worry about something but that worry isn't resolved, either through self-reassurance, it being reframed somehow in my mind, or practical problem solving so that the worry is literally resolved, then the brain will try to 'complete the circuit' of that unfulfilled emotional expectation by dreaming it through metaphorically.

Over-dreaming is exhausting, partly because it cuts into slow wave, recuperative sleep - the type of sleep within which we get our rest - but also because over-activation of REM seems to be exhausting in itself.

Depressed people always dream more than non-depressed individuals. However, we can worry a bit more than usual, dream a bit more than usual, and get less rest from our sleep than we normally do without tipping into depression. It would be the excess stress hormone (which is normalized through slow wave sleep) that would play a part in feeling exhausted. Check out 'Are Your Brain Chemicals All Wrong?' for more on this.

Regular daytime relaxation, breaking problems down and taking more steps to actually solve them, and starting to deal with worries so that they are less troublesome, plus taking regular outdoor exercise and keeping healthy will all help normalize your sleep patterns again.

All my best,


watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - March 20th, 2015 in

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