Jul 12th 2023
A lack of sleep can significantly depress your mood even when you’re in a good mental space. This effect can be amplified if you don’t get quality sleep when you have a depressive disorder. Fortunately, you can get a better night’s sleep with various self-help strategies or assistance from a mental health professional.
The question is, can lack of sleep cause depression? There is a clear link between depression and insomnia, but it isn’t a one-way causality. Meaning, some people experience symptoms of insomnia or other sleep difficulties first, which can lead to depression. Others exhibit depression symptoms first, which can lead to trouble sleeping.
In either case, a lack of sleep lowers your ability to cope with daily stressors. As stress mounts, so does worry. As you continue to struggle with everyday tasks, that stress and worry can lead to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, which are hallmarks of depression.
While it might not be known which condition occurs first, what is certain is that the link between insomnia and depression is strong. Research shows that about 75 percent of people with depression experience insomnia. About 40% of young adults with depression have hypersomnia or periods of excessive sleep. Furthermore, insomnia increases one’s risk of depression.
Insomnia and depression aren’t the only combinations of sleeping disorders and depressive disorders (though depression and insomnia are the most common combination). Other connections between sleep issues and depression include:
Additionally, some parasomnias, such as nightmares (the most common parasomnia during depression) , occur with more frequency in people that are depressed.
Apart from sleeping disorders, other sleep situations are associated with depression. For example, sleep deprivation and depression have strong associations. Studies of medical students - who work long hours with little sleep - show an increased incidence of depressive symptoms in students over the course of a year-long residency.
But the level of sleep deprivation needn’t be severe or long-term. In fact, one’s subjective assessment of mood diminishes after just one night of deprived sleep. Researchers speculate that an accumulated effect of this type of sleep deprivation might result in clinical depression.
Though it can feel utterly hopeless when you can’t sleep, there are many strategies you might use to help make a better night’s sleep more likely. The self-help tips below are an excellent place to start:
Above all, if you’re in bed and cannot sleep, don’t just lay there. Instead, researchers suggest you leave the bed and occupy your mind and body with another activity. You might clean the kitchen, organize the pantry, or fold the laundry - it’s up to you. The important part is to distract yourself from stressing about how you’re not asleep.
If you’ve implemented the self-help sleep strategies outlined above but are still struggling with sleep, you may need to see a medical or mental health professional for help. Sleep disturbances and depression are both highly treatable conditions with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
One of the most popular and effective therapies for depression and sleep disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). As a treatment for depression, CBT helps you relearn negative thought patterns that contribute to your symptoms. By breaking these negative patterns, you begin to feel better about yourself. There is also a specialized form of cognitive therapy for insomnia patients (CBT-I) that teaches you how to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Both depression and sleep disorders can be treated with medications as well. Depression is commonly treated with antidepressants like fluoxetine, venlafaxine, and bupropion. Common sleep disorder medications include trazodone to help you sleep, stimulants (if you have hypersomnia), or anti-seizure medications to help minimize your movements during sleep.