Just like food, water, and air, sleep is a basic human need. Without it, the body cannot heal, grow, and repair itself. Modern studies show a strong correlation between sleep and psychological health. Bad sleeping habits can have a profound impact on your mental health. Conversely, getting enough rest promotes cognitive fitness, improves mood, and, most importantly, reduces the risk of depression.
The Relationship between Sleep and Depression
Poor sleep quality is a common trait in people with mental health problems. In fact, an inability to sleep well is considered a diagnostic criterion for mental health disorders like depression, the most common mental illness in the U.S.
The main symptoms of depression are:
- Loss of interest in all activities
- Feelings of despair
- Negative thinking/rumination
- Changes in sleeping habits
Evidently, sleep has a major impact on a person's psychological wellbeing. Insomnia, a characteristic of depression, is often the first indicator of an underlying mental disorder. However, people with depression don't just suffer from insomnia. Their entire sleeping pattern goes out of whack, resulting in abnormalities like fragmented sleep, an inability to fall asleep quickly, poor REM sleep, lower sleep efficiency, and decreased slow-wave sleep.
A study in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience confirms that long-term insomnia can cause depression. It's not surprising because up to 80 percent of patients with depression experience various forms of sleep disturbances. Without sufficient rest, their daytime activities suffer greatly, suggesting that altered sleep patterns are not just a symptom of depression but also a major cause.
How Sleep Impacts Mental Health
A lack of adequate sleep can increase negative emotions like sadness and anger and reduce positive feelings. Often, you will witness the effects of sleep loss in frustrating situations, which exacerbate negative feelings.
If you don't get enough sleep, you become more irritable, fixated on negative thoughts, and lose the drive to participate in daily activities. If it sounds familiar, that's because these are symptoms of depression.
The bad mood makes you more susceptible to stress-it actually drives up your cortisol levels-and leaves you feeling blue and empty. It is not uncommon to feel like the world has lost its color and lose interest in things you enjoy doing. Without sufficient sleep, even family and social relationships become strained due to your altered emotional state.
Patients with mild depression risk further emotional and cognitive disfigurement if they don't get enough sleep, which inevitably intensifies the symptoms of depression. It's not just depression that gets amplified when you don't get enough rest. Poor sleeping habits tend to exacerbate mood disturbances like irritability and anxiety, too.
How Inadequate Sleep Affects the Body
Sleep disorders are widespread in the general population. They are known to cause significant health and behavioral malfunctions. The link between poor sleep quality and depression lies in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of major depressive disorder (MDD) is the deregulation of the HPA axis. Sleep quality affects the stress reactivity of the HPA axis, which means sleeping better can reduce its reactivity. In fact, deep sleep has an inhibiting influence on the HPA axis, so getting enough deep sleep can prevent its deregulation, which often marks the onset of MDD.
Sleep deprivation can also increase cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Even a single night of fitful sleep is enough to drive up your cortisol levels. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, wreaks havoc on the body at elevated levels. It is linked to a long list of physical and mental illnesses, one of which is depression.
Insomnia and Depression
There's enough evidence suggesting that people with insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression than those who get enough sleep. Insomnia amplifies the severity and duration of depressive episodes. In a study, women who experienced mood improvements after interpersonal therapy slept better than those who didn't respond positively to the therapy.
Sleep disorders are also associated with an elevated risk of suicide in children and teens. Adolescents who experience insomnia and hypersomnia are more likely to be severely depressed than those with either one of the sleeping disorders. Analogous findings on the correlation between sleep and depression suggest that addressing sleep problems first is a viable way to ease depressive symptoms and even prevent future relapses.
In one such study involving 545 patients, the following conclusion was obtained: patients who received sleep medication and their antidepressants fared much better than those who only got antidepressants. This group also slept better and showed more promising improvements in its depression scores than the group on antidepressants alone.
Recovering From Depression Using Sleep
There are no shortcuts or easy fixes to depression. Often, the path to recovery is a long and treacherous one, filled with medication and therapy. However, you have more control over the recovery process than you realize.
It is possible to overcome depression, but it is not easy. You can start by learning how to have a good night's sleep. Sleep is necessary for your physical and cognitive wellbeing. It is powerful enough to gradually diminish the key symptoms of depression, but only if you're persistent about maintaining a regular sleep cycle.
One way to fall asleep faster is by listening to gentle music (around the 60 to 80 beats-per-minute sweet spot) or reading a book before bed. Slow music that's close to your heart rate soothes the mind and body at a biological level. Reading a relaxing book can have a calming effect on the mind and body, which can put you in the right mind state to drift off.
Sleep deprivation doesn't just cause depression; it is also linked to a wide range of mental health problems. Getting enough rest can have dramatic and instantaneous positive effects such as improved mood and lower irritability levels. Eventually, it can cut down many symptoms of depression, leaving you happy and healthy.
Sleeping well every night puts you in a good mood and lets you wake up feeling rested, energetic, and ready to face the day. Sleep's importance cannot and should not be overlooked, especially when it pertains to our mental wellbeing and keeping depression at bay.