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Depression And Sleep: Understanding the Connection

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Talking through your depression with a mental health expert (called therapist) helps many people.
  • A severe type of depression can cause you to hear, see or believe things that are not real. This is psychotic depression. 
  • Women are 70% more likely to experience depression than men.
  • Experts believe that about 50% of depression stems from genetics.
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You might have heard that depression can lead to lack of sleep, but what you might not know is that the reverse is also true! Read on to find out how these two seemingly unrelated conditions, depression & sleep are actually closely linked.

If you suffer from depression, daily stressesโ€”such as financial worries, an argument with your spouse, or commute from work โ€” could also lead to more frequent waking up at night and more trouble getting back to sleep as opposed to someone without depression would experience. 

At the same time, sleep problems can exacerbate depression, leading to a negative cycle between depression & sleep that can be challenging to break. Poor sleep may even induce depression in some people. 

Understanding the complex relationship between sleep and depression can be an important step in improving sleep quality and better managing depression.

 
 

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders and can strike at any age, but typically it begins in adulthood. Though depression affects all demographic groups, it is more common among adolescents and youth, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth), and those above the age of 60.

Signs and symptoms of depression include disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, feeling guilty, low self-worth, feelings of tiredness, lethargy etc. It may also manifest as agitation or physical restlessness, substance abuse, reduced focus, and suicidal thoughts or acts.

People experiencing depression often find a range of evidence-based coping mechanisms useful, from talking to someone they trust to exercising regularly or staying connected with loved ones.

There are many different types of depression, and it sometimes occurs alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or substance abuse disorders. It is important to get treated for depression if you're experiencing symptoms because therapy can improve your quality of life and reduce your risk for suicide.

How is Depression Diagnosed?

Depression can only be diagnosed by a medical professional, so people experiencing symptoms of depression should talk to a doctor, counsellor, or a psychiatrist. They may ask about the severity of the symptoms and how long they've persisted. They may also suggest tests that can help them better understand your situation and monitor changes or improvements over time. 

A therapist may also refer patients to a specialist in sleep disorders to help determine if there is an underlying sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome that may be causing depression or contributing to the symptoms.

Sleep And Brain

It's no secret that a good night's sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. But did you know that sleep is also critical for our brain function? Numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired memory and cognitive performance, as well as an increased risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. 

While the exact mechanisms by which sleep affects mood are not fully understood, it is clear that there is a strong connection between the two. For example, research has shown that people with insomnia or other sleep disorders are more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to increased levels of stress hormones and inflammation, both of which are known to contribute to feelings of low mood. 

If you're struggling with depression, it's important to talk to your doctor about possible treatment options. In some cases, addressing underlying sleep problems can help improve depression symptoms. There are also several effective antidepressant medications available. You just need to talk to your doctor and understand the best course of treatment for your specific problem.

The Connection Between Sleep Disorders and Depression

It's no secret that lack of sleep can lead to feelings of depression. But what you may not know is that depression can also lead to sleep disorders. The two conditions are actually quite interconnected. Depression can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also lead to daytime fatigue, which can make it hard to function during the day. All of this can create a vicious cycle in which lack of sleep leads to acute depression, which leads to more acute sleep problems, and so on.

Depression and sleep are closely connected. Almost all people with depression experience sleep issues. In fact, doctors may hesitate to diagnose depression in the absence of complaints about sleep. 

Depression and sleep issues have a bidirectional relationship. This means that poor sleep can contribute to the development of depression and that depression makes a person more likely to develop sleep issues. This complex relationship can make it challenging to know which came first, sleep issues or depression.

If you're struggling with both depression and sleep problems, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treating one condition may help improve the other. In some cases, medication may be needed to help regulate sleep. But there are also simple things you can do on your own to improve your sleep habits, such as: 

  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule  
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed 
  • Limiting screen time before bed 
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine

How Depression Affects Sleep?

how depression affects sleep 
 

We all know that when we don't get enough sleep, we feel cranky and exhausted the next day. But what many people don't realize is that chronic sleep deprivation can actually lead to serious mental health problems. Studies have shown that there is a strong link between lack of sleep and depression.

Regulation of Dopamine and Serotonin

There's a strong link between depression and lack of sleep. Depression can cause a person to have trouble sleeping, and not sleeping can make a person more likely to experience depression. A key difference between the two conditions is how they affect the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

Dopamine is responsible for the brain's pleasure and reward systems. When someone is depressed, they may have low levels of dopamine. Not sleeping can also lead to low levels of dopamine. Serotonin, on the other hand, helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. People with depression tend to have lower levels of serotonin. Lack of sleep can also cause a decrease in serotonin levels. 

The connection between depression and lack of sleep is likely due to the way these neurotransmitters are affected by the conditions. Low levels of dopamine and serotonin can lead to feelings of sadness and despair, which can make it hard to sleep. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can worsen symptoms of depression by causing further imbalance in the level of neurotransmitters.

Biochemical Imbalance

Depression and lack of sleep are connected because when you're depressed, you're not getting the restorative sleep that you need. This is due to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. When you don't get enough sleep, it can trigger a cascade of events that lead to depression. That's why just being tired all the time can lead to depression. You're not giving yourself a chance to heal. Depression is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance causes problems with things like mood, energy levels, and sleep. One of the most common imbalance is in the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood, anxiety, and sleep. When serotonin levels are too low, it can lead to symptoms of depression. Not getting enough sleep only makes these symptoms worse. That's because when you're tired, your body doesn't have the energy to keep your mood up. So you end up feeling even more depressed.

Lack of sleep can make it tough for you to focus on things. This can make it even harder to get things done and make decisions. All of these things can add up to a feeling of hopelessness, which only makes the depression worse.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help balance the levels of these neurotransmitters in your system and get your depression under control.

A holistic Approach to Treatment

Researchers are careful to note, however, that two other factors -- depression and low socioeconomic status - are strongly associated with oversleeping. Those two factors may be the reason for the observed negative health effects. For example, people of lower socioeconomic status may have less access to healthcare and therefore more undiagnosed illnesses, such as heart disease, which, in turn, may cause oversleeping.

Oversleeping: How Much Sleep is Too Much

The amount of sleep you need varies significantly over the course of your lifetime. It depends on your age and activity level, as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. For instance, during periods of stress or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. But although sleep needs differ over time and from person to person, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between seven and nine hours each night.

Why Do People Sleep Too Much?

For people who suffer from hypersomnia, oversleeping is actually a medical disorder. The condition causes people to suffer from extreme sleepiness throughout the day, which is not usually relieved by napping. It also causes you to sleep for unusually long periods of time at night. Many people with hypersomnia experience symptoms of anxiety, low energy, and memory problems as a result of their almost constant need for sleep.

If you're struggling with depression and sleep problems, it's important to seek out treatment. A holistic approach that addresses both the mental and physical aspects of the problem is usually best. This might include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes like getting more exercise and improving your sleep habits. With treatment, you can start to feel better and live your best life.

Treatment choices for depression depend on how serious the illness is. Major depressive disorder is treated with psychotherapy (counseling, or talk therapy with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed counselor), medications, or a combination of the two.

The most effective treatment for depression is often a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Drugs tend to work more quickly to decrease symptoms while psychotherapy helps people learn coping strategies to prevent the onset of future depressive symptoms.

Tips to Improve Sleep

Tips to Improve Sleep

In addition to trying medications, here are some tips to improve sleep:

  • Learn relaxation or mindfulness-based meditation and deep-breathing techniques.
  • Clear your head of concerns by writing a list of activities that need to be completed the next day and tell yourself you will think about it tomorrow.
  • Get regular exercise, no later than a few hours before bedtime. 
  • Don't use caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the evening.
  • Don't lie in bed tossing and turning. Get out of bed and do something in another room when you can't sleep. Go back to bed when you are feeling drowsy.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping and sexual activity. Don't lie in bed to watch TV or read. This way, your bed becomes a cue for sleeping, not for lying awake.

Conclusion

Depression and lack of sleep can be a vicious cycle. One can lead to the other, and it can be difficult to break out of. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Many people suffer from both depression & sleep problems.

If you think you may be suffering from either or both, please reach out for help. There are treatments that can help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, can be an effective way to treat both conditions. If you think you might be dealing with depression and poor sleep, talk to your doctor about what treatment options are available to you.

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Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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