More than 14 million American adults meet the criteria for a major depressive episode in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (2010). Sleep and depression have a complex relationship, and depression symptoms can include both insomnia and excessive sleepiness. In addition, sleep deprivation can bring on symptoms of depression in some people.
Sleep Deprivation, Depression and Insomnia
Changes to sleep patterns are a common depression symptom, with depression and insomnia often occurring together. Less frequently, excessive sleep and depression are seen together.
In addition to excessive sleepiness and sleep deprivation, depression symptoms can include:
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of guilt, shame or worthlessness
- Loss of interest in activities usually found pleasurable
- Loss of sex drive
- Persistent sadness/unhappiness
- Slowed mental processes
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Unexplained crying spells.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should seek medical attention. If you or someone you know are considering suicide, call a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
Depression Symptoms and Sleep Disorders
One of the key symptoms of depression is insomnia, or the inability to sleep. Depression and insomnia, no matter the cause, can lead to other problems, such as difficulty concentrating and impaired decision making.
In addition, people who are not sleeping may lie awake worrying about problems or about how badly they feel, adding to overall depression symptoms.
Depression and Sleep Apnea
Depression symptoms and sleep apnea appear to be connected, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine (2003). People with sleep apnea briefly stop breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and symptoms similar to those of insomnia, including being tired and irritable.
Unfortunately, researchers are not yet sure whether depression contributes to sleep apnea or if sleep apnea causes depression. Treating sleep apnea, however, seems to improve sleep and depression symptoms.
In addition to sleep apnea, other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy, can cause symptoms of depression. If you are feeling depressed, talk to your doctor about any sleep-related symptoms you’re experiencing to ensure an accurate diagnosis. If the cause of your depression symptoms is an underlying sleep disorder, treating that condition often relieves the depression.
Treating Depression and Insomnia
Symptoms of depression may be treated by psychotherapy, medications or lifestyle changes. Psychotherapy helps people learn coping techniques to control depression symptoms. Psychotherapy also helps people understand relationship problems and how to change negative thought processes.
Medications are often prescribed to ease symptoms of depression. Antidepressants may help people sleep while improving mood. However, insomnia and increased depression are potential side effects of antidepressants.
In addition, doctors often recommend regular exercise for depression. People suffering from depression may want to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Relaxation techniques may relieve depression symptoms and improve sleep.
Millions of people experience depression and insomnia. If you think that you are among them, contact your physician right away. Early diagnosis can lead to more effective treatment.
Brandt, M. L. (2003). Study finds link between sleep apnea, depression. Retrieved September 21,2010, from http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2003/november5/depression.html.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Depression (major depression). Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2010). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#MajorDepressive.
National Sleep Foundation. (2009). Depression and sleep. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/depression-and-sleep.