Researchers may finally have an answer to what\u2019s been a never-ending chicken-and-egg debate: Are you suffering from insomnia because you\u2019re depressed, or are you depressed because you\u2019re suffering from insomnia? In what is thought to be the first study large enough to determine the effects of treating insomnia on mental disorders like depression and anxiety, researchers say sleep issues might actually be the reason some people develop such problems in the first place. \u201cThe dominant view is that sleep problems are either a symptom of several mental health problems or a secondary consequence,\u201d said professor Daniel Freeman of the University of Oxford and co-author of the research, in a news release. \u201cWhat is evident is that the current view of sleep problems needs radical revision. Insomnia isn\u2019t the sole cause of complex psychological problems. But the idea that insomnia is merely a product of these other difficulties doesn\u2019t stack up.\u201d The Oxford study included more than 3,700 insomnia patients in the United Kingdom. About half received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) via an online program called Sleepio. The others acted as a control group and received no treatment. Over the course of the trial, those who received CBT not only slept better, but were also less likely to experience a depressive episode or anxiety, paranoia or hallucinations. If Sleep Isn\u2019t Happening, Seek Help On an individual level, the research is a reminder of how vital restful sleep is for our mental health. Skimping on sleep is a mistake, particularly during stressful times, Freeman says. \u201cIf sleep isn\u2019t happening for us for a prolonged period, it\u2019s sensible to seek help. Not only will we sleep better, we could be saving ourselves a great deal of distress further down the line.\u201d It\u2019s believed that people who don\u2019t sleep enough also damage their mental health by denying the brain \u201chousekeeping\u201d time to prune connections and consolidate memories. Giulio Tononi, a renowned sleep researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, published a study that showed that the brain weeds out redundant or unnecessary connections during sleep. This process helps us remember what\u2019s important by letting us clear away what isn\u2019t. And while not a medical researcher, Spanish Nobel Prize in Literature winner Juan Ram\u00f3n Jim\u00e9nez called forgetting a virtue, necessary for detachment from the shadows of the past and the anxieties of the future. Insomniacs are afforded no such relief. When it comes to treating addiction, the Oxford research tells us that drug abuse may actually be prevented with early, robust treatment for serious sleeping issues. How so? Because addiction doesn\u2019t exist in a vacuum. \u201cThere\u2019s no such thing as just addiction,\u201d says Christopher La Riche, MD, of Elements Behavioral Health. \u201cIt\u2019s always addiction and something else.\u201d So if the insomnia is treated, depression may be prevented, and if depression is prevented, there\u2019s no need for self-medication with alcohol or other drugs. Treatment Options for People With Sleep Disturbances The National Sleep Foundation defines insomnia as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep \u201cat least three nights per week for three months or longer.\u201d People who drink heavily or abuse other substances like cocaine, meth or Ecstasy (MDMA) are among those at the highest risk for insomnia. In fact, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health, some 75% of recovering alcoholics report sleep issues immediately after detox. So clearly, treating insomnia in rehab and recovery is important. (One of the top concerns people have when they enter drug rehab is how their sleep problems will be addressed.) There are over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids available, but the latter can be risky for individuals in recovery as they too may present an addiction risk. Here are some medications doctors often prescribe for insomnia that have a low risk for addiction: \tVistaril \tTrazodone \tElavil \tSeroquel \tRozerem A non-drug way to treat insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy is effective whether accessed online or face-to-face with a therapist. Called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), it is considered a first-line treatment (as opposed to medication) by the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. CBT-I includes talk therapy to help combat the racing mind as well as stimulus control, such as avoiding naps and using the bedroom only for sleep. Changing lifestyle habits that affect sleep, like consuming caffeine in the evenings, drinking too much alcohol or not getting daily exercise, are also part of the program. In addition, CBT-I introduces relaxation tips that help participants wind down before bedtime. Think meditation, controlled breathing and guided imagery. With sleep increasingly being recognized as vital to health \u2014 a shortage of shut-eye is blamed not only for mental disorders, but also for physical problems like diabetes, motor vehicle crashes and occupational errors \u2014 seek help if you\u2019re having problems falling asleep or staying asleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Your family doctor or mental health care practitioner can help. Don\u2019t put it off. Your well-being depends on it.