You probably already knew that depression can cause sleep disorders. Many people who suffer with depression sleep too much, while others have problems sleeping at all. But did you know that sleep deprivation may cause depression symptoms? Often, sleep deprivation and depression occur together and offering treatment for one helps bring about an improvement in the other, too.
Why are sleep deprivation and depression linked? Sleep is essential for healthy functioning of all the body’s major organs, of which the brain is one. When the brain can no longer function properly because of insufficient sleep, depression can occur. Research suggests that getting enough sleep can help protect against intrusive, negative thoughts and other hallmarks of depression. Antidepressants, psychotherapy, and good sleep hygiene can help treat depression caused by sleep deprivation, as can drugs designed to relieve insomnia.
Lack of Sleep Causes Depression in Teens
According to the results of a study performed by sleep specialists, not getting enough sleep can significantly raise the risk of depression symptoms in teens. The study examined sleep habits and depression symptoms in 262 high school students. Over 50 percent of the teens in the study reported feeling “excessively sleepy” during the day, a term that sleep specialists use indicate that a person is likely to doze off while watching TV, reading, or performing other daily tasks.
The students in the study said they slept about six hours a night during the school week and about eight hours a night on Friday and Saturday. That’s a lot less than the minimum of nine hours of nightly sleep that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends for teens. The students’ lack of sleep showed in the high rate at which they reported depression symptoms. Thirty percent of the students demonstrated severe depression symptoms, and an additional 32 percent had milder depression symptoms. Those who were the most sleep deprived were three times more likely than their well-rested peers to suffer from depression.
Adults Are at Risk for Sleep-Related Mood Symptoms, Too
Teens aren’t the only ones who can develop depression symptoms if they don’t get enough sleep; adults are also likely to develop depression if sleep deprivation becomes chronic. Mark Mahowald, MD, who directs the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, told WebMD that the relationship between insomnia and depression is bi-directional. Not only can depression cause insomnia and sleep deprivation, but sleep deprivation can also cause symptoms of lowered mood — and those mood symptoms can cause further sleep impairment, which causes further mood impairment, and so on. According to R. Robert Auger, a sleep specialist with the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine, people who suffer from insomnia are four times more likely to develop depression than those who do not suffer from insomnia. For reasons experts don’t fully understand, depression risk can remain elevated even decades after insomnia is resolved. The two conditions so often occur together that many sleep specialists screen their patients for depression as a matter of course.
A study published in the journal Sleep last year suggests that sleep duration can affect depression symptoms. In a twin study of 1,788 adults, the researchers discovered that people who sleep fewer or more than the recommended eight hours a night increased their risk for depression. Among the twins who slept an average of seven to 8.9 hours a night, 27 percent developed depression symptoms. Those who slept an average of 10 hours a night had a much higher risk of depression symptoms — 49 percent of those twins developed depression. But the twins who slept the least had the highest depression risk of all — 53 percent of those who slept an average of five hours a night developed depression.
Get Enough Sleep, Feel Better
For people who suffer from both depression and insomnia, treating either condition can help bring about a speedier recovery from the other. Treating insomnia can be of immense help in achieving depression remission when the two conditions occur together. Many antidepressants, like SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants can also help you sleep. Some antidepressants, like mirtazapine and trazodone, have sedative properties. These medications can be combined with other antidepressants, like Abilify, to help bring about complete remission of depression symptoms.
Sleep hygiene is also an important part of treating insomnia. Avoid using alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine at bedtime. Use the bedroom only to sleep or have sex; don’t read, watch TV, or do other activities in your bed. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes of lying in bed, get up and go into the other room to listen to music, read, or do another relaxing activity until you get tired. When you refrain from using your bed for activities other than sleep, going to bed becomes a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
You should also try to avoid using e-readers, tablets, computers, or other devices that have a backlit screen before bedtime. The glow of these screens can disrupt production of melatonin, the hormone that caused your brain to go to sleep. Meditation, yoga, listening to soft music, or reading at night can help you unwind and relax before bed.
Though experts don’t yet fully understand why, it’s clear that sleep deprivation and depression are linked. If you’re having problems sleeping, you’re more vulnerable to depression — or you may already be suffering from depression. To protect your mental health, always make sure to get enough sleep.