Even in the best of times, depression is a common disorder that impacts millions of Americans. About 8% of U.S. citizens 20 or older — or more than 25 million people — suffer from depression, according to the CDC. And over the course of a person’s entire life, about one out of six people, or upwards of 16%, suffer from depression at least once.
The problem? So few people realize how closely sleep and depression can be related. We all know that quality sleep is good for us. Getting in enough hours of shut eye boosts our energy levels, aids exercise recovery, and can even improve how productive we are at work. But one thing we tend to forget about? Our mental health.
In fact, sleep and its impact on mental health is one of the reasons I’ve dedicated my life to helping people get the best sleep possible.
When it comes to sleep and depression, it can be cyclical. We know that sleeping less leads to more irritable moods. Who hasn’t felt a little cranky after a long day? But someone with depression may also find it harder to sleep, making the problem worse.. That’s especially true for anyone suffering from sleep apnea and insomnia.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about how sleep and depression are related, and what to do if you suspect a sleep disorder like sleep apnea and insomnia is affecting your mental health.
Poor Sleep Increases Your Risk for Depression
Your mood depends heavily on how you sleep. Anyone who has stayed up late cramming for a test, preparing for a big day at the office, or had the bad luck of sitting near a crying baby on a red-eye flight knows this all too well.
You don’t have much to worry if these situations pop up every now and then. But expanded over a period of a few weeks or months, a lack of sleep can add up and take its toll on your mental health.
A 2017 nationwide survey conducted by Dr. Kelly Sulivan of Georgia Southern University suggested a strong link of chronic sleep to depression. Of the 20,000 adults polled, participants getting at least one hour less than “optimal sleep,” or a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night, were 60-80% more likely to show symptoms of depression and related issues, including nervousness and hopelessness.
Researchers are continuing to investigate the exact reasons sleep helps decrease the risk of depression. One hypothesis is that our brains stop producing cortisol, or what is often called our “stress hormone,” when we’re in deep non-REM sleep. But that process is hampered when we fail to sustain quality sleep — which can lead to increased stress levels and a harder time coping with depressive triggers.
At the same time, one 2017 study from the U.K. showed those suffering from mental health disorders, and especially depression, reported significant improvements in their condition when they received both more sleep and better quality sleep, which is primarily characterized by a minimal amount of arousals during the night.
Sleep quality, even more than sleep duration, could be the real key here. About 90% of people suffering from depression report problems with sleep quality. Avoiding nighttime interruptions allows your body to work through the four stages of sleep and receive the calming benefits that come with it.
Falling asleep not only faster but also staying asleep longer can be a challenge, but many people benefit from fasting acting, natural sleep aids, like my Sleep Doctor PM spray.
Sleep Apnea May Be Behind Your Depression
While poor sleep quality can worsen your depression, one sleep disorder is especially problematic. Sleep apnea, in particular, has been closely linked to depression, with 63% of people suffering from untreated sleep apnea also suffering from depressive symptoms, according to one study published in the journal Sleep in 2012. This was consistent for both men and women. Another multi-year study led by a Stanford researcher found people suffering from depression were five times more likely to suffer from sleep disordered breathing, of which sleep apnea is the most common form.
Compounding matters,depression and sleep apnea share several of the same symptoms, including:
- A decreased sex drive
- Difficulty focusing
Proven Treatment for Sleep Apnea: CPAP
Fortunately, treating sleep apnea has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
One study from 2015 found 73% of participants with untreated sleep apnea also exhibited signs of depression. But after just three months of CPAP therapy, the most popular treatment for sleep apnea, the results were remarkable. The number of participants who reported depressive symptoms dropped from 73% to 4%, and other studies have found similar results.
Ultimately, identifying sleep apnea early on can help reduce or even eliminate the causes of your depressive symptoms.
Insomnia Could Be Behind Your Depression
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying alseep, or getting back to sleep, you could be one of what the American Sleep Association estimates to be 50 to 70 million Americans suffering from insomnia.
All of us have a bad night now and then, but chronic insomnia, which tends to last for several months, is the real issue to watch for. This form of insomnia usually doubles as a check engine light for depression.
Research has shown people suffering from insomnia are 9-17 times more likely to exhibit clinically significant signs of depression and anxiety.
Interrupted sleep, or problems even getting to sleep, stand in the way of getting sufficient rest. This leads to the brain being unable to shut off its production of cortisol, which elevates stress levels. And increased stress levels are a hallmark contributor to depression.
While there are many reasons to treat insomnia, one simple way to reduce back pain and make sure you’re getting a good nights’ sleep. A product like my Everpillow does just that, by providing support and comfort no matter where you are. Too few people realize what a difference a supportive pillow can make.
Looking for more information on insomnia and depression? Check out the five surprising sources of insomnia.
Better Sleep Action Plan
The relationship between sleep and depression is complex, but there’s some easy fixes to start improving your quality of life today.
- Make Small Changes. Whether you’re been diagnosed with a sleep disorder or not, a great first step to fighting depressing is to start making easy adjustments to your routine. It can be as simple as nine tips for sleeping better and smarter each night.
- Get Assessed. If you suspect a sleep disorder by insomnia or sleep apnea is behind your depression, or making it worse, the first important thing to do is get checked out. Your personal doctor is a great resource, but you can also enroll in sleep studies.
- Seek Treatment and Sleep Therapy. If you’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, now’s the time to invest in proven treatment. Research backed sleep supplements can help alongside traditional treatments.
- See a Mental Health Specialist. While I’ve focused on how sleep disorders affect your mental health, it’s just as important to also address if you have underlying mental health issues that are worsening due to poor sleep. Make sure you see a qualified psychologist or therapist to see what treatment options are best for you.
And, as I mentioned early on, depression can also stand in the way of quality sleep. If you believe that’s the case, be sure to contact a health professional who specializes in mental health disorders for a full consultation. The relationship between depression and sleep can be frustrating, drawing parallels to the chicken or the egg metaphor. But there are solutions out there, so don’t get discouraged. This is a problem that can be solved.
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