Can Depression Make You Tired?

By Jon Jaehnig

Updated August 27, 2019

Reviewer Kristen Hardin

It is often said that depression makes you tired. People with depression struggle with motivation to do tasks they need to do and even fun things they normally would enjoy doing. Those with depression often sleep far more than the average person without depression. But why? Does depression make people tired? The answer is yes and there are many reasons why tiredness occurs with depression. This article will explore depression and this particular symptom of depression as well as treatment options.


What Is Depression?

Depression is classically characterized by feelings of sadness or hopelessness. It can also mean a lack of interest or motivation.

Everyone feels these feelings from time to time, especially if life seems hard at the moment. However, people with depressive disorders have these feelings for weeks at a time or longer. These feelings might also be so strong that the individual is unable to do the things that they need to do or the things that they once enjoyed doing. Sometimes these feelings may start after a tragic event like the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Other times, however, they can seem to come on for no reason.

Other symptoms of depression include changes in weight, changes in sleep, moving or speaking slowly, fatigue, feeling worthless, difficulty concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of suicide. If you are having any thoughts of hurting yourself, you should reach out for professional help immediately.

Causes of Depression

Sometimes depression is caused by an event, and other times, it is caused by imbalances of messenger molecules in the brain called "neurotransmitters." Some scientists believe that a combination of both of these factors may be at play and may explain why some people get depression after certain situations and others don't. In these cases, an individual may have a predisposition for depression, which gets triggered by a traumatic event.

Some believe that the chemical imbalance that may lead to depression in some people is the result of genetics, as depression does tend to run in families. In some cases, these imbalances can be caused by other factors as well, such as the use of alcohol and other drugs.


Physical Symptoms of Depression

In addition to the emotional symptoms of depression that were discussed above, depression can come with several physical symptoms. Weight loss due to lack of appetite and weight gain due to lack of activity or overeating are both common symptoms of depression. Other physical symptoms without an obvious source or that don't respond to treatment, such as headaches or digestive problems, can also be the result of depression.

As mentioned above, tiredness is another classic symptom of depression. Tiredness, lack of energy, and other similar symptoms can be because of depression or can be the result of other physical symptoms of depression like insomnia which leads to fatigue and tiredness.

Serotonin and Tiredness in Depression

We talked already about the role of neurotransmitters in depression. Specifically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter that seems to be problematic in most cases of depression.

The body is supposed to release serotonin at certain times and in response to certain stimuli. Serotonin then bonds to special cells in the brain called serotonin receptors. Serotonin that is left over may then be reabsorbed through other means. Not only active in the brain, but serotonin also helps nerve cells all over the body to communicate with one another and controls other important biological functions, including sleep-wake cycles, digestion, and other functions.

In many cases of depression, something is wrong with the balance of serotonin in the brain and body or with the cells that are supposed to receive it. In some cases, the body doesn't make enough serotonin. In other cases, the cells that are supposed to receive the serotonin may be unable to because they have been damaged or because they have become immune to the chemical. This can happen in cases in which the body makes too much serotonin or when an individual has used drugs that mimic serotonin in the brain and body. Finally, in some cases, the body reabsorbs serotonin too quickly, preventing it from being effectively used.

No matter what exactly the cause, too little serotonin in the brain and body may cause feelings of tiredness because the nervous system is not able to act as efficiently as it should. Serotonin imbalances may also lead to tiredness indirectly by causing problems with sleep-wake cycles that make it difficult for the individual to get the rest that they need. Because serotonin imbalances can also cause digestive problems, it may also be that people with depression cannot extract energy from food in the ways that they are supposed to or may not be eating enough food to give them the fuel that they need to feel energized.


Treating Serotonin Imbalances

Most of the medical interventions used to treat depression, called "anti-depressants" address the problem of serotonin imbalance.

The most common form is called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors," or "SSRIs" for short. These medications work by preventing cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin before the serotonin receptors have a chance to use it. These medications make the serotonin that is already available more effective without increasing the volumes of serotonin. This is important because, as mentioned above, serotonin receptors become less useful when they are simply given serotonin. As a result, if antidepressants worked by simply increasing the volume of serotonin in the brain, they would gradually become less and less useful as well as habit forming and potentially dangerous.

SSRIs are the third major kind of antidepressant drug and have largely replaced earlier serotonin reuptake inhibitors. As we have learned more and more about the brain and neurotransmitters, antidepressant drugs have become more effective and have fewer and fewer side effects.

Individuals that are prescribed antidepressants should make sure that the prescribing physician knows about all other medications that they are taking. It is usually not recommended for individuals taking antidepressants to drink alcohol as alcohol can worsen feelings of depression and have dangerous interactions with antidepressants.

Treating Other Aspects of Depression

Depending on the cause of the depression, the healthcare provider, and the means and preferences of the individual, antidepressants could be the only course of treatment for depression. This will address the chemical imbalance that may have caused or contributed to the individual's depression, but it will not give them the emotional resources that they need to deal with feelings of depression. To address these emotional needs, many people choose to undergo therapy for their depression as well.

Some people chose to do therapy to treat their depression and do not take medication. This is a personal choice and it works well for some people, especially those who are experiencing depression due to a triggering event and not a brain chemistry issue. However, for others, such as those with the serotonin issues described above, therapy alone may be helpful, but not alleviate some symptoms of depression that medication can better target.

The most effective course of treatment for depression for many is a combination of talk therapy and medication. The medication makes talk therapy more effective, and talk therapy provides tools and resources that medications do not. As a result, individuals who undergo both talk therapy and medication for depression simultaneously often see their depression significantly improved or even in remission in a much shorter time frame.

Some people find barriers to getting therapy whether it is due to expensive cost, lack of providers in their area, or a busy schedule that makes a weekly appointment challenging. Fortunately, as telehealth technology as increased, there are more options. There are now ways that you can get effective professional therapy online through platforms like BetterHelp. In other words, you can get high quality therapy without even leaving your home or office.

Finding Help

In addition to publishing education articles like this one, BetterHelp has a service that connects individuals with one of the thousands of licensed professional counselors and therapists over the internet. This allows people to see counselors and therapists on their own schedules, from the comfort of their own homes, and for often lower rates than seeing a counselor or therapist in person, especially if they do not have easy access to a counselor or therapist in their area.

To learn more about how you or a loved one can benefit from seeing a licensed and professional online therapist for depression, visit

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