“Young adults with insomnia were 4 times as likely to develop depression when compared to their counterparts without insomnia”
This staggering statistic came from a longitudinal study of 1200 young adults aged 21 to 30.
The participants were assessed for baseline insomnia, then followed over a 3 year time period to determine the development of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
And those with insomnia were 4 times as likely to develop depression when compared to their controls (those without insomnia).
Some studies have even shown as much as a 10 fold increase in depression risk.
Considering the fact that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects over 16 million adults, it’s important to decipher how sleep plays a role in its genesis.
How Does Sleep Affect Mood?
It should come as no surprise that a lack of sleep can have a profound effect on your emotions and overall sense of well-being.
When you’re coming off a night of unrestful sleep, you may find that you’re more irritable, more reactive and easily frustrated.
You may be more short-tempered, easily stressed out, and find that you have a shorter fuse than normal.
You also may find that you feel less motivated to complete tasks, are more fatigued than normal and mentally clouded throughout the day.
These changes in mood and emotion don’t just happen by chance.
They occur because a loss of sleep means you’re losing precious time in which your mind normally works to help you regulate your emotions.
As discussed in Why Sleep is Important for The Brain, sleep serves a very important function in helping to regulate your emotions.
When you’re sleeping your amygdala, or the emotional control center of your brain talks to different parts of your brain and undergoes regulatory processes.
When you are sleep deprived, you make less of those important connections, making your amygdala more responsive to negative stimuli during the day.
So it makes sense that you may be a little more on edge after a day of poor sleep right?
Does Insomnia Lead to Depression or Depression to Insomnia?
Insomnia has kind of a “chicken and egg” relationship with depression, with insomnia being both a known symptom and cause of depression.
So what comes first?
The answer is both.
Insomnia has been shown to precede, co-occur with, and result from depression.
When you think about the function of sleep, it’s easy to understand how chronic disruption or lack of sleep could play a role in its development.
And most people are aware of the negative effects depression can in turn have on your sleep.
How Does Depression Alter Sleep?
According to an article published in the Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience, over 80% of people with depression suffer from insomnia.
Depression has been shown to cause a decrease in slow-wave sleep which is the most mentally restorative and the part of sleep in which we consolidate our memories.
Depression also leads to difficulty falling asleep and to an increase in middle of the night and early morning awakenings.
These findings have been confirmed by not only patient report but documented sleep studies that show a disruption in primary sleep architecture.
And what’s even worse is that people with depression who also suffer from insomnia are more likely to relapse or have recurrences of their depression than those who do not.
Does Treating Insomnia Help Depression?
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that better sleep is the cure for depression.
But I am saying that improving sleep may be one way to help with depression.
And using healthy sleep habits to prevent or cure chronic insomnia may help to halt the development of depression in the first place.
There was even a study conducted by the Associate Professor of Psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto that found that participants with depression who used cognitive behavioral therapy to improve their insomnia, were twice as likely to cure their depression as well.
Those are some pretty powerful findings.
So….. whether you are personally struggling with depression or looking for ways to improve your overall mental health, improved sleep may be the first step to get you to your goal.
How Can I Improve My Sleep and Mental Health?
In How Can I Cure My Insomnia? I detailed my top tips for curing insomnia and getting more quality sleep.
And while these tips will help to improve anyone’s sleep, there are some techniques that will specifically help to improve your mental well-being while helping to cure your insomnia at the same time.
Meditation or mindfulness is a deep relaxing technique that helps you improve your awareness of your body and focus your attention in a way that relieves stress, anxiety and tension.
In meditation, you focus on your breathing and over time you gain better control over your emotions and alter your perspective in positive ways.
It has even been shown to have positive physical effects on your body including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, decreased stress hormones and an overall improved sense of well-being.
It’s easy to see how all of these benefits can lead to improved sleep and depression.
The benefits of yoga for sleep and depression are similar to those of meditation.
Yoga is also a mindfulness practice that focuses on breathing and helps you feel more connected to your body and mind.
It’s also a form of physical activity which in and of itself has been shown to help with insomnia and improve feelings of sadness and depression.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
I mentioned CBT earlier in the post when discussing how it was used in a recent study to improve participants’ insomnia.
It turns out the same technique can (and is) used as a treatment for depression as well.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of treatment that focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns that in turn lead to changed behaviors.
The thought is that you may not be able to change what happens to you but if you change how you think about what happens to you, you can change the behaviors that lead to things like poor sleep or depression.
Depression is a very real and serious topic and is something that too many people suffer through day after day.
I don’t think there’s any one answer to its treatment, but I do think that better sleep is a big step in the right direction.
And of course, if you are currently suffering from depression, I recommend reaching out to a medical provider who can aid you in getting the help you need.