We are only beginning to unravel the genetic and biochemical basis of mental illness – a vague term including conditions as diverse as anxiety, depression, and mood and psychotic disorders. With millions of people suffering from such conditions, it is crucial that we find ways to improve diagnosis and treatment. But an increasing body of scientific evidence is now suggesting that we should turn our attention to one of our most basic functions: sleep.
Studies suggest that disrupted sleep such as insomnia could actually help us predict episodes of mental illness and that fixing sleep problems may help treat them. Despite this, the effects of sleep on mental illness have been largely ignored in the clinic so far. But how is sleep and mental health actually linked in the brain? To understand this, let us first consider the biology of sleep and circadian rhythms.