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How Depression Affects Sleep

Sleep issues and depression are two problems that often occur at the same time. Around three-fourths of people who struggle with depression also have insomnia. Hypersomnia (excessive fatigue and daytime sleep) is also common among people with depression, especially younger people. As much as 40 percent of young adults with depression also struggle with hypersomnia. 

Sleep issues in people with depression are so common that one medical review suggested a diagnosis of depression with no sleep issues should be given with caution. Sleep problems are one of the most common ways Americans experience a lowered quality of life daily.

Not getting the recommended amount of sleep each day can lead to health problems. It can cause cognitive impairments, and it can make attending to daily responsibilities a challenge. Getting too much sleep can interfere with daily activities, too. Sleep issues are also linked to increased risk of suicide in patients with depression.

Sleep problems are also an important symptom of depression. It’s often the first issue people consult with a medical professional about. People who are unwilling to seek help for mental health issues because of social stigma may seek help for insomnia or fatigue. It’s also important for them to be treated together. If one is ignored, it can make treatment ineffective and challenging.

Learn more about how sleep issues and depression are related and how they can be treated.

How Depression Disturbs Sleep

People with depression can often experience measurable differences in their sleep patterns. Researchers use hypnograms to measure the quality of sleep by looking at brain wave activity and how it relates to wakefulness, REM sleep, and deep sleep. Studies show that people with depression often experience less uninterrupted sleep. 

Sleep disturbances often cause frequent wakefulness throughout the night, which breaks up your sleep cycle. Depression is also linked to increased sleep onset latency, which is the length of time it takes you to fall asleep. People who are depressed often spend less time in a deep sleep. 

A healthy sleep cycle determines the quality of your sleep. Restful sleep is important for healing, psychological processing, and energizing your time awake. These differences in sleep patterns often happen to people who are in remission from depression and maybe an early predictor of relapse. 

For that reason, it may be important for people in depression remission to pay close attention to the quality of their sleep to help prevent a relapse of depression symptoms. 

Depression is linked to changes in the brain that can also have an impact on your sleep health. Depression can alter levels of serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain responsible for regulating sleep and mood. Low levels of serotonin may alter how well you sleep. 

Many depression medications are serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, which are drugs that stop your brain from removing and recycling serotonin to allow it to build up and have a greater effect. If serotonin is the root of your sleep problem, it could help treat both sleep disorders and depression. 

Depression can also affect the amygdala, the part of the brain designed to regulate sleep and behavior. When it becomes overactive, you may have trouble getting to sleep or sleeping through the night. 

How Insomnia Can Cause Depression

When it comes to co-occurring mental health and medical problems, it’s often difficult to determine which one is a cause and which one is a symptom. Depression can cause changes in the brain and body that may be connected to sleep disorders. But it’s possible that sleep issues like insomnia could have an effect on depression. Studies show that people that struggle with insomnia are at an increased risk of developing depression later on.

A 1989 study found that 14 percent of people who reported insomnia in an initial interview was determined to have developed depression a year later. Another study in 1996 found that people who struggle with insomnia were four times more likely to experience depression three years later than people who didn’t struggle with depression.

Why Sleep Issues Should be Addressed

Co-occurring disorders often play off of and worsen one another until both are addressed. If you seek treatment for depression without addressing a sleep disorder, poor sleep may continue to cause psychological and physical health problems, which can lead you to relapse back into depression. Likewise, addressing sleep problems while ignoring depression may not get to the root of your problem. 

Effective treatment should address multiple needs at the same time to give you the best chance at long-term recovery. Mental health treatment should be tailored to your needs, addressing physical, mental, and social problems that may be a cause or consequence of depression. Take your first steps toward mental health by learning more about depression and sleep problems today.

Sources

Ağargün, M. Y., Kara, H., & Solmaz, M. (1997, June). Sleep disturbances and suicidal behavior in patients with major depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9228889

Breslau, N., Roth, T., Rosenthal, L., & Andreski, P. (1996, March 15). Sleep disturbance and psychiatric disorders: a longitudinal epidemiological study of young adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8679786

Ford, D. E., & Kamerow, D. B. (1989, September 15). Epidemiologic study of sleep disturbances and psychiatric disorders. An opportunity for prevention? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2769898

Giles, D. E., Jarrett, R. B., Roffwarg, H. P., & Rush, A. J. (1987, December). Reduced rapid eye movement latency. A predictor of recurrence in depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3509065

Jindal, R. D., & Thase, M. E. (2004, February). Treatment of insomnia associated with clinical depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15062208/

Nutt, D., Wilson, S., & Paterson, L. (2008). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/

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