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Depression and Sleep: The Connection + How to Combat Sleeplessness

by SleePare

By Emily Stringer | 4 Minute Read

With over 264 million diagnoses, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world.

There are several types of depression with different biological causes and some varying symptoms. There is one symptom—sleep disturbances—that is common in all depression variations.

Depression can affect sleep, and sleep disorders can lead to depression, creating a never-ending cycle. Sleep disturbances due to depression are more complicated than they seem on the surface. Read on to find out more about how sleep and depression are connected and some lifestyle tips on how to handle sleep and depression.

  • Sleep-Depression Connection
  • Depression and Insomnia
  • Treatments for Depression-induced Insomnia 
  • Lifestyle changes to help you sleep 
  • Sleep tips
  • When to see a doctor

The Sleep-Depression Connection

someone laying in bed. Text callout: Chronic sleep loss leads to poor moods and anxiety, both symptoms of depression.

Sleep disorders can lead to depression, and all varieties of depression can lead to sleep disturbances. Insomnia and hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) are both signs of depression. 

Treatments for sleep disorders and depression intersect and can help both disorders. While the conditions are closely related, having a sleep disorder does not automatically lead to depression. 

Chronic sleep loss leads to poor moods and anxiety, both symptoms of depression. Since depression is a disorder of the brain, it makes sense biologically that the disorder would impact other parts of your brain. 

Does Depression Cause Insomnia?

younger  person looking at the alarm clock late at night. Text callout: About 40% of young adults with depression experience excessive sleeping.

Insomnia is one of the first symptoms those suffering from depression show. Not everyone diagnosed with depression will experience insomnia. However, intrusive thoughts like feelings of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness can interrupt sleep. Also, anxiety that often accompanies depression often causes rumination of thoughts, fearing sleep, and racing thoughts that can keep you awake. 

Depression can cause excessive tiredness and hypersomnia. Oversleeping is common in atypical depression, a depression caused by an event. Atypical depression can be alleviated by a positive event. About 40% of young adults with depression experience excessive sleeping.

Those with depression will use sleep as an escape from their feelings. Depression often causes fatigue and physical pains that linger and are followed by sadness and changed moods. Feeling tired and experiencing pain increases sleeping in those with depression. 

More often than not, those suffering from depression will also experience insomnia. The best way to tell if you have depression-induced insomnia is to keep a sleep and mood journal to watch out for patterns around stress. Insomnia is a common symptom experienced at the start of a depressive episode.  

Treatments for Depression-induced Insomnia

person waking up feeling refreshed. Text callout: From prescription medication, SSRIs, sleeping aids, exercise, and more, there is a treatment for everyone.

There are multiple treatments for depression-induced insomnia. From prescription medication, SSRIs, sleeping aids, exercise, and more, there is a treatment for everyone. Here are a few proven treatments for depression-induced insomnia. 

Remember to ask your doctor before trying any new medications, treatments, or programs. If you feel you might be depressed, see your doctor or call the SAMHSA helpline. 

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

 Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia or CBT-I is a form of therapy that teaches and encourages healthy behaviors to induce restful sleep. CBT-I is designed to teach patients new behaviors that help quell depression-induced insomnia. These behaviors include sleep restriction, sleep hygiene, and improving sleep environment. 

SSRIs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs are the most common antidepressants. These medications alter brain function and chemistry to treat depression and other mood disorders. SSRIs like Zoloft or Prozac release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that signals your brain. Those with depression suffer from a brian malfunction that impacts the mood center of the brain. The increased serotonin from taking SSRIs treats depression and helps lessen the effects like insomnia. 

Prescription Sleep Aids 

If you’re suffering from insomnia, your doctor can prescribe prescription sleep aids. Note these medications can have harmful side effects if not taken correctly. Prescription sleep aids are much stronger than over-the-counter options. Sleep aids will cure insomnia and allow you to get the sleep you need and may not be used long term. 

When taking prescription sleep aids, make sure you can “sleep off” the medication to prevent grogginess the next day.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is another term for developing sleep habits or a routine. Developing good sleep hygiene allows you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and create the environment you need for quality, restful sleep. Examples of sleep hygiene include keeping your room dark, establishing a consistent bedtime, avoiding caffeine before bed, and removing/avoiding distracting electronics.

Sleep Restriction

This might seem counterintuitive, but restricting sleep to a regular bedtime and establishing a bedtime routine will help you fall asleep. A bedtime routine trains your body to know when it’s time to go to bed, so you will naturally start getting sleepy nightly. Sleep restriction therapy limits the time you stay in bed and daytime napping. By restricting sleep, you will be more tired and want to go to bed.

Lifestyle Changes to Help You Sleep

person jogging outside. Text callout: Let a friend, family member, or significant other hold you accountable.

Once you’ve changed your sleep habits to improve your mental health, you must commit to lifestyle change to see the results you want. 

Adjusting your lifestyle can be a challenge having someone else to hold you accountable can help you stick to the plan that will change your life for the better. Let a friend, family member, or significant other know your plan. Ask them to remind you about your recent changes and have them remind you if needed. This extra step will help you stay on track. 

Adapting the following lifestyle changes will improve your sleep habits, depression, and overall physical health.  

Exercise

Regular exercise is a vital component of staying healthy. The benefits of exercise are endless from weight loss, improving cardiovascular health, and increasing metabolism. Many don’t realize that exercise can help with sleep. Studies show that exercise increases the time we spend in deep REM sleep- the sleep stage that allows the body and mind to repair. 

Starting a regular exercise routine will not only improve your sleep, but will also improve your overall health. 

Meditation 

In the past few years, meditation has grown in popularity as more people have experienced the health benefits of the practice. Studies show that meditation called mindful meditation improves sleep, helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep, relieves stress, improves anxiety, and aides in fighting fatigue

Mindful meditation focuses on calming breathing techniques and focusing being in the moment. Meditation is recommended for 20 minutes per night and refocuses your thoughts, to calm your mind.

Get Some Sun

Along with providing vitamin D and improving mood, sunlight also helps you sleep. While this may sound counterintuitive, studies show that exposure to sunlight during the day helps regulate circadian rhythm- our body’s natural internal clock that regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Those who work night shifts and rotating schedules are susceptible to circadian rhythm disorders. 

When we wake up and see sunlight, our bodies release cortisol- a hormone that tells our body it is time to wake up. If you’ve ever woken up early, seen the sun, and have trouble going back to sleep, this is why. Additionally, as the sun goes down our bodies produce melatonin, or the hormone that promotes sleep. By exposing yourself to morning light, you’ll be able to sleep better and regulate your natural sleep/wake cycle. 

Use Sleep Apps

While exposure to blue light from electronics before bed can have detrimental effects on your sleep, there are apps that track your sleep, help you fall asleep, and provide sleep statistics based on sleep journals. One of the most popular apps, Sleep Cycle tracks and analyzes your sleep patterns and sleep phases. 

The app works by waking you up during your lightest sleep phase. This prevents the jarring wake up from a traditional alarm that leaves you groggy and in a sour mood. Sleep Cycle also tracks movement, snoring, and stores your average sleep times and wake up times. The app includes a journal-like option where you can mark if you had caffeine before bed, exercised, had a stressful day, and more to see how daily events affected your sleep. 

Get Up

Instead of tossing and turning, get up. Next time you stare at the clock, unable to sleep–don’t! Forcing yourself to sleep rarely works and leads to more stress and anxiety. It’s best to get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. 

Limit Caffeine 

Many can’t get through the day without their daily cup of coffee and sometimes an afternoon pick-me-up. That afternoon latte can leave you feeling wired and unable to sleep. Studies show that caffeine consumed within 6 hours of bedtime can disrupt sleep. For instance, if you go to bed at 10:00 p.m., avoid caffeine after 4:00 p.m. 

Avoid Blue Light

With most of our lives spent in front of screens, this is easier said than done. The blue light emitted from electronics disrupts our circadian rhythms and simulates sunlight keeping us awake. Blue light suppresses melatonin, preventing us from getting tired.

 If you’ve been scrolling through your phone before bed and notice your perk up as you scroll, blue light has kept you awake. It’s best to turn off electronics at least an hour before bed to prevent blue light 

Sleep Tips That Can Help With Depression

person working from home. Text callout: A survey of 2,000 at home workers found that 70% of those whose starting working at home experienced sleep pattern disruption.

Once you’ve adapted your lifestyle and made the choice to change your sleep patterns and schedule, it's difficult to know where to start. It’s also just as easy to backslide into old habits. Along with treating depression and other mental health issues like anxiety that can cause insomnia, here are a few additional tips to help you sleep with depression.  

Don’t Work Before Bed

With most companies still working from home, and remote work is the new normal for the foreseeable future. While working from home has its benefits, one downside is sleep pattern disruption. Remote workers without set hours and an office to go to find boundaries between work and home have blurred. A survey of 2,000 at home workers found that 70% of those whose starting working at home experienced sleep pattern disruption. 

Working in your bedroom impacts sleep patterns. Experts recommend sticking to a work day schedule and try to work outside of your bedroom, if possible. Removing electronics from your bedroom before bed will allow you to relax and take your mind off work. Establishing a bedtime routine away from electronics and work will help you relax and sleep. 

Avoid Social Media

While reading a book or even listening to calming music or meditation on your phone can help you sleep, pulling up Instagram one last time before bed can lead to decreased sleep quality. Studies show that checking your social media up to thirty minutes before bed are 1.5 times more likely to experience disrupted and poor sleep.

Viewing social media before bed can cause anxiety and depression that prevent you from falling asleep. Blue light from our phones and computers suppresses melatonin, keeping us awake. High amounts of social media usage, in general, is proven to cause poor mental health, including depression. Simply reducing your social media usage to half an hour a day can improve mental health. Limit yourself to a set amount of time on social media daily by putting locks on those apps. Also, turning off notifications for your social media accounts can take away the temptation to check your phone. 

Read

Tonight, when you hop into bed, pull out your favorite paperback instead of scrolling through your phone. There are numerous studies and evidence showing that reading before bedtime reduces stress, distracts your mind, improves cognitive functioning, and increases the time it takes to fall asleep. 

Reading on a Kindle or other device is beneficial as well–just make sure to turn down the brightness or try blue light filtering glasses or shields. However, it is best to keep e-readers out of the bedroom. 

Take a Warm Bath Before Bed

A warm soak in the tub before you hit the sheets might be just what you need for a good night’s sleep. Warm water helps lower your core body temperature, which signals your body that it is time to go to sleep. According to a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews, a one to two hour bath up to 90 minutes before bedtime in water measuring 104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 to 43C is the magic formula for the best sleep. 

Natural body temperature fluctuations is why this sleep trick works so well. Warm water causes the body��s thermoregulatory system to focus blood circulation from the core to the peripheral hands and feet. When your body is exposed to warm water, your body temperature rises and then falls. The decrease caused by exposure to cooler air creates the decrease. Experts advise those who work night shifts or have a rotating schedule to try this method for inducing sleep. 

On the flip side, a cold shower will raise body temperature and have the opposite effect. While it's tempting to take cooler showers during the hotter months, it is best to turn the shower dial up a up for better sleep.

Keep a Regular Bedtime

There’s a reason your bedtime was so important as a child. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule throughout your life is vital to overall health. Regardless of your schedule, keeping a similar bedtime daily leads to good health. 

Irregular sleep patterns are shown to increase the risks of elevated blood sugar, obesity, heart disease, and hypertension. Inconsistent sleep patterns disrupt circadian rhythms, leading even more issues with sleeping. 

Limit Certain Medications Before Bed

You need certain medications to treat a condition or illness, but many common prescription and OTC medications can keep you tossing and turning. Medications from certain beta blockers, asthma medications, ADHD stimulants, nasal decongestants, and steroids can all cause insomnia due to ingredients. 

If you are taking any of those medications or others that might cause insomnia as a side effect, contact your doctor about changing your medication or adjusting the dosage time.

Avoid Alcohol 

Alcohol relaxes the body and can make you fall asleep. You might feel great after a few drinks but your sleep will suffer. The drowsy feeling you get from tossing back some wine at happy hour causes sleep rhythm disruptions, including blocking REM sleep. Using alcohol to get to sleep over time leads to a plethora of health problems. 

Our sleep patterns comprise delta and alpha activities; delta a slow wave pattern while alpha occurs during rest and not actual sleep. Alcohol causes your brain to cross these wires and allows both sleep patterns to activate. This process limits deep sleep. 

Along with interrupting sleep patterns, alcohol relaxes the throat muscles which increase the risk of snoring and sleep apnea. 

When You Should See a Doctor

person at the doctors office. Text callout: Both sleep and depression are all too common problems that millions experience.

If you’ve been experiencing sleep issues related to depression, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. Treating both conditions will improve your quality of life. Insomnia and depression can occur separately as well. If this is the case, treatment by a medical professional and lifestyle changes can help. 

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience thoughts of suicide, hurting others, or if you are experiencing drastic changes in mood and personality. 

Both sleep and depression are all too common problems that millions experience. Getting the help you need and to deserve will transform your life and allow you to perform better at work, revive relationships, and improve health. 

If you’re looking for additional sleep resources, or think you might need a new mattress to even further improve your sleep, visit SleePare for additional information and resources. 

 
Emily Stringer

Emily Stringer


Emily Stringer is a Content Writer at SleePare. Emily has over five years of experience writing and conducting research for different industries. When she’s not writing, you can find Emily with her dogs in Lexington, Kentucky.