Insomnia and Depression

Sleep, or lack thereof, and depression have a complicated and multifaceted relationship. This article examines the various interactions between sleep and depression, with a focus on insomnia and depression. Keep reading for more on insomnia and depression.

What Are Insomnia and Depression?

Insomnia or sleeplessness can refer to problems falling asleep, waking up often during the night, or awaking too early in the morning. Inability to obtain restful sleep - whatever amount your body needs - can lead to a host of issues, including fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, and poor concentration. Long-term, the effects can be debilitating.

Everyone may have an occasional night when he or she doesn’t sleep well.  This could arise from an unknown cause or from specific events such as hearing bad news, exercising or eating too close to bedtime, an unfamiliar or uncomfortable bed, or a mosquito in the room. And certain situations interrupt sleep for a limited period, such as caring for a newborn, taking care of someone who is ill, or grieving for a loved one. But up to a quarter of all Americans have occasional insomnia without an identified cause, and for ten percent of people, insomnia is a chronic condition.

Depression refers to a dampening of mood accompanied by a sense of sadness, and lack of interest in the world, possibly feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and often characterized by depressed or increased appetite and changes in normal sleep patterns.

As it is true that it is normal to occasionally experience insomnia in response to particular events, so it is normal to experience non-pathological depression in response sad, concerning, or painful events of life. Such a depression could follow the loss of a pet, the break-up of a relationship, a problem at work, etc. Reactive depression is self-limited, usually lasting no more than a number of weeks, and resolving without intervention.

Depression can also arise as a mental disorder, in which case it either may not resolve by itself, may include a response that is out of proportion to the event or stressor that evoked it, or may be totally unrelated to the events of life.

The Relationship of Depression and Insomnia

Insomnia may be caused by poor sleep habits or a host of other causes such as anxiety, jet lag, medications, stress, hunger, etc. It has also been known for a time as a key symptom of depression, experienced by at least 80 percent of people suffering from depression. But a sleep researcher named Michael Perlis from the University of Rochester has suggested that it is something more: a harbinger of an episode of depression, preceding the onset by about 5 weeks. Moreover, there is a suggestion that if the insomnia is treated, the depression may be forestalled or shortened in duration. Dr. Ruth Benca of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine agrees that insomnia is both a cause of and a simple antecedent to depression. And according to research by Dr Maurice Ohayon at Stanford University School of Medicine, people with insomnia are more likely to develop depression than those who do not have insomnia.

Perlis says that insomnia may be the body’s attempt to heal itself. One possible connection may be that someone who suffers a bit of insomnia gets anxious about sleeping and does things (like drinking, taking sleeping pills, napping, etc.) that interrupt the natural pattern of waking and sleeping, increasing the chance of further insomnia, which in turn creates more anxiety and fatigue and irritability. Well underway, this problem may grow into depression. This is not how all depressions arise, but it is believed likely to explain some of them. It fits with ideas that depression is linked to disorders in the body’s circadian rhythms.

It is not clear (yet) how this may related to reports released early in 2010 that indicated that teens who had less that 5 hours of sleep a night were 71 percent more likely to become depressed than teens who slept 8 hours, as well as a 48 percent higher risk of having thoughts of suicide. These facts argue for taking insomnia that persists seriously and treating it promptly.


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