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Why our Psychologists and Psychiatrists are big on addressing sleep in mental health

September 28, 2018 by Hamish Binnie

Recent research has demonstrated that a significant proportion of mental health issues may be impacted by or even underwritten by sleep difficulties and inefficiencies. Numerous recent studies have demonstrated links between poor sleep in mental health issues such as depression[1], anxiety and repetitive thinking[2], memory deficits[3], ADHD[4] and self-regulation difficulties. Based on this research, the importance of well-regulated sleep cannot be understated.

Sleep assessments are done to more accurately assess the type and degree of impact an individual may be experiencing as a result of dysregulated or insuficnet sleep. Following well-researched protocols set out by neuroCare CSO Dr Martijn Arns in The Netherlands, patients who attend a neuroCare clinic are asked to undertake a sleep assessment using both questionnaires and ‘actigraphy’ wristband sleep recordings. Questionnaires can be used be to provide subjective reports of sleep quality, vital to understanding an individual’s experience of sleep. Some research has suggested that subjective perceptions of sleep quality may influence aspects of cognitive function later in the day[5]. To confirm and validate this information, an actigraphy assessment (sleep assessment) is also undertaken. An actigraphy assessment involves wearing a sleep watch for a period of 1-2 weeks, where measurements of movement, light and temperature are taken for the duration of the study. This information is used to provide an objective view of sleep behaviour and will provide a snapshot of sleep quality, sleep length and time to sleep onset.

Once a full understanding of an individual’s sleep behaviour has been achieved, a plan can be set to assist in regulating sleep activity. One manner of regulating sleep activity is via Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a methodology aimed at facilitating self-regulation of brain activity, and may potentially be utilized to promote ‘sleep-spindles’[6], which are important for a range of cognitive functions [7] potentially including attention regulation and memory consolidation during sleep[8].

These sleep spindles are important components of our sleep, aiding our cognitive function throughout the day. However, they can be inhibited when sleep quality is reduced or sleep length is shortened. Evidence has shown that those individuals capable of producing higher levels of sleep spindle activity are less likely to awaken during the night, and are more likely to enjoy a higher quality of sleep. There are certain Neurofeedback protocols to specifically calibrated to encourage the brain’s production of sleep spindles, helping the person regain healthier sleep and wake patterns.

There has been sufficient evidence to show that through reinforcing sleep spindle activity via neurofeedback, the brain is better able to produce this activity while asleep and thus able to experience a greater quality of sleep throughout the night. Following this, it is expected that cumulative improvements in sleep quality will result in improvements in other area such as attention and self-regulation.

Current research has also highlighted the impact of artificial light (specifically blue-wave light frequencies) on our sleep quality [9], and it is important to take this into account when assessing sleep behaviour. It appears that artificial light sources such as smartphones, portable tablets and laptop screens could be wreaking havoc on the sleep patterns of people across the globe. Some recent research has even gone so far as to show that blue-frequency light can be damaging to cells in the eyes [10]. To minimize the impact of blue-light, a number of options are available and can be addressed in consultation with a Psychologist or Psychiatrists working with neuroCare protocols. Visit our page on blue-light and sleep disorders for further information.



Hamish Binnie

Hamish Binnie

Hamish is a Neurofeedback technician at neuroCare’s Listen And Learn Centre in Melbourne. Hamish studied Psychology and Psychophysiology, and holds a Bachelors of Health Science with Honours. Hamish administers Frequency band Neurofeedback, Slow Cortical Potential Training and receives ongoing training with neuroCare.

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