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

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  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?

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    • That being said, I have learned to be skeptical. Sleeplessness may still be only a symptom of a deeper cause. Why are some people more susceptible than others? If it comes down to merely a lack of sleep, I’ll be ecstatic (but still wondering who I should sue).

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    • Many studies I post are of things MIA readers know through direct experience. Very often the comments are of a “well, duh” variety. I post them so that the next time someone says to an MIA reader “but what’s the evidence”, they will have it. So, of course many studies will seem unnecessary.

      The problem is that when people assert things that are counter to the conventional wisdom, the response is always “show the evidence.” To which it can fairly be said that the evidence for alternative models of etiology and treatment have existed for decades, at the least. But given this, the response is then “we’ll, then, it’s old; show new evidence.” But then every new piece of evidence is dismissed as anecdotal or flawed.

      My mission is for this site to be an ongoing, up-to-date resource for new evidence for alternatives, the gradual accretion of which will give people working in these arenas what they need to assert their views.

      No single study will succeed or fail at this. And neither will the argument ever conclusively end, I think. My aspiration is to provide people what they need to assert their experience and their views with confidence, and with enough information to, at the least, raise doubt in the minds of those who have the privilege of complacency.

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      • Hi, Kermit,
        I know that you run these “well, duh” articles for exactly the reasons you state, and they do build up our bank of evidence. One question though: How do we find the specific evidence we are looking for on the MIA site? There’s a search bar, there are subject categories in Archives, but if I want to see what evidence (not opinion) MIA has highlighted on people dying on average 25 years early, it’s not readily apparent, from what I can tell. Am I overlooking something or is there a way you can provide readers with quicker access to the evidence that we need in order to better advocate?

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  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

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    • Agreed that I should have acknowledged it is an animal study. I do cringe at “animal models of schizophrenia” and the like.

      However, I have been fascinated by studies, such as those coming from Robert Stickgold’s lab, that show how learning is dependent on the brain activity that occurs during various stages of sleep and dreaming. It seems to me that, where these essential processes are interrupted, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to hypothesize that something that looks or feels like psychosis might occur. That this study seems to get at some of the neural activity associated with that seemed interesting to me in this regard, and in my delight at that small but titillating aspect I failed to note the limitation of it being an animal analog.

      On the other hand; on certain levels, brains are brains. Our experiences of them are both fundamentally different from, as well as fundamentally connected to, those of all conscious beings (with a nod to the Buddha). I take delight in everything that suggests the potentially shared experience of consciousness, whether it’s with a family member or a rat.

      With that in mind (or brain, if you will) I’m allowing myself this maudlin reflection on Thanksgiving morning, about to be shared with those I’ve come to care about; which includes all you reading this, as well as the rats who are now part of our accumulated understanding.

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  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?


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