Sleeplessness Causes Psychosis Via Cortico-Limbic Disruption


Wave patterns associated with disturbed sleep closely match those of people with a schizophrenia diagnosis, according to research from the Eli Lilly Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience and the University of Bristol in the U.K. Published in Neuron, the paper explores the rhythmic neural network activity associated with communication between limbic and cortical areas, inspired by evidence linking abnormal sleep and memory consolidation with psychiatric illnesses. “Sleep disturbances might be a cause, not just a consequence of schizophrenia. In fact, abnormal sleep patterns may trigger abnormal brain activity in a range of conditions,” says the lead researcher.

Abstract → Phillips, K., Bartsch, U., et al; Decoupling of Sleep-Dependent Cortical and Hippocampal Interactions in a Neurodevelopmental Model of Schizophrenia. Neuron. November 8, 2012; 76(3), pp. 526-533

Of Further Interest:
Could poor sleep contribute to symptoms of schizophrenia?
(Press Release)
Could Poor Sleep Contribute to Symptoms of Schizophrenia? (Science Daily)
Poor Sleep Can Cause Symptoms Of Schizophrenia (Medical News Today)
Does schizophrenia cause poor sleep, or could it be the other way around? (
Not getting a good night’s sleep could cause schizophrenia (
Treating insomnia in schizophrenic patients
(Clinical Advisor)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]


  1. That is what a lot of “Mentally Ill” people have been trying to tell psychiatrists fo decades without being listened to. I tried to tell my son’s psychiatrists that his psychosis was due to sleep deprivation and that as far back as the sixties and seventies, there had been studies done about this. They had never heard about it. I know it to be true from personal experience. I slept only four hours or so while cramming for exams and a couple of months later started hearing voices in my head. These people don’t need to be put pronto on antipsychotics but to be given the chance to reestablish a normal pattern of sleep and a lot of peace and quiet, not a locked ward with all sorts of frightening and noisy goings on

  2. This conclusion is hardly news, as MIA readers know only too well, since the possible link between lack of sleep and psychosis has been raised for years. Every parent and patient is told by the psychiatric team that it would “help, of course” if the patient got plenty of rest in a low stress atmosphere, making it sound like sleep disturbance was just one of the many “symptoms” of psychosis. Could all of the associated worry and all of the money spent on both conventional and unconventional treatments for my son’s “schizophrenia” been eliminated if we simply made sure that his bedroom at night was as dark as a tomb and that there was absolutely no noise or no electrical interference? I recently started doing exactly that, since good sleep produces lots of melatonin. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about curing mental illness at a shrine in Afghanistan. The readers criticized the treatment methods used as “primitive.” As MIA readers know, mental health outcomes are better in the less-developed societies. I’ll bet that the patients at the shrine slept in pitch black darkness and that it’s pretty quiet at night in the area of the shrine.
    It is as Alix (previous comment) says: Psychosis tends to hit vulnerable young men and women when cramming for exams and young women after childbirth. Both of these times are a period of lack of sleep.
    Who do I sue?

  3. While the study may seem related to personal experiences, it’s worth noting that a) it’s in a “rat neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia” – i.e. animal models which in this area so far haven’t proven helpful, as “schizophrenia” (like depression) is a thoroughly verbal (images, words etc) problem, and rats don’t display verbal behavior. Also that b) it’s an Eli Lilly study, essentially, so for the purpose of developing pharmacotherapy at heart, and c) it’s full of “maybe’s” eg “potentially as a consequence of …” and “may be associated with …”
    I daresay that personal accounts of sleep problems and psychotic / psychosis like experiences, and how individuals handle these more effectively, may be more fruitful for helping those suffering such interactions.
    Best wishes, rob purssey

  4. I’ve kept a sleep log for the past month. This is my “normal”:

    Wake 4 AM
    Wake 6:30 AM
    Wake 6 AM
    Wake 8:30 AM
    Wake 9:45 AM
    Wake 9:45 AM
    Wake 11:30 AM
    Wake 11:30 AM
    Wake ?
    Wake 1:30 PM
    Wake 1:30 PM
    Wake 2PM
    Wake 4:30 PM
    Wake 6 PM
    Wake 7 PM
    Wake 12 AM
    Wake 1 AM
    Wake 5:30 AM
    Wake ?
    Wake 4 AM
    Wake 6 AM
    Wake 7 AM
    Wake 6:30 AM
    Wake 7:30 AM

    Tonight, I am shifting. I can’t sleep (because I am upset).

    Am I psychotic?