The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation And Depression

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated July 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression and changes in sleeping patterns are connected, so it may not be uncommon for someone to experience sleep deprivation alongside depression. If you’re experiencing insomnia and symptoms of a depressive disorder, you’re not alone. Over 280 million people worldwide live with depression, and many forms of treatment are available for this condition. Managing insomnia and depression simultaneously can be challenging, but working with a mental health professional to develop sleep hygiene and mental health techniques may be beneficial.

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Sleep deprivation and depression can be challenging

What is sleep deprivation?

Medically, sleep deprivation is the result of not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can occur for adults at less than six hours of sleep per night but differs from temporary sleep deficiency. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause ongoing health concerns, including inflammation and reduced immune system functioning. 

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

Daytime sleepiness is the most common symptom of sleep deprivation. However, many other symptoms can be present, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Irritability 

  • Clumsiness

  • Trouble with learning or memorization

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Increased appetite and cravings  

  • Decreased motivation

  • Forgetfulness

  • Changes in mood  

Effects of sleep deprivation

When sleep deprivation is chronic, lasting effects can take hold. Safety may become an issue due to the increased possibility of automobile accidents. Studies have found that 6000 car accidents result from tired drivers each year. 

Sleep deprivation may also contribute to high blood pressure, a greater risk of colorectal cancer, diabetes, and a lowered immune system. Other mental health concerns can take hold when sleep deprivation occurs. A lack of proper sleep may exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  

What is depression?

Depression is a shortened term to describe any depressive disorder but often refers to major depressive disorder. This mood disorder can cause persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that once brought you joy. Although sadness is a common symptom of depression, there is more to depression than sadness. Understanding the symptoms of depression, how it can affect you, and how it connects with sleep deprivation can help you determine the best route for treatment.

Symptoms of depression

It’s possible to experience one major episode or recurring periods of frequent symptoms when living with depression. Examples of symptoms that may occur include:

  • Feelings of intense sadness or apathy

  • Irritability

  • Loss of interest in many activities, including those that used to be exciting or fun 

  • Lack of energy

  • Changes in sleep habits

  • Anxiety and restlessness

  • Changes in appetite

Effects of depression

There are various effects of depression, from life changes to health concerns. A person living with depression might take naps during the day, which can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Depression can also cause problems with work, school, relationships, and other responsibilities. 

For example, an individual with depression might feel it is impossible to attend work on a day-to-day basis. Getting out of bed each day can become overwhelming, and other parts of life might be neglected. Your relationships with those you love may also become impacted, and these symptoms might be exacerbated after a lack of sleep. 

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How does sleep deprivation affect depression?

Depression and sleep deprivation can have similar symptoms. However, the effects can be more pronounced when the two are present simultaneously. Daytime sleepiness can cause difficulties in daily life in the same way as depression. With the two compounding concerns, difficulties may be amplified. For many individuals living with sleep deprivation and depression, the symptoms can feel never-ending.

For instance, someone who has difficulty falling asleep might struggle with focusing on work. They may already be having difficulty getting to work due to depression. A lack of sleep may make it even more challenging to communicate with others, control emotions, and feel motivated to perform self-care. 

With so many symptoms compiling simultaneously, an overlap between sleep deprivation and depression can be draining. However, there are ways to improve your sleep and depression.

How can I improve sleep and my depression?

The treatment options for insomnia and depression include traditional and non-traditional methods. From therapy to medication to natural remedies, both sleep and depression can improve with treatment. A few standard treatment options to consider may include the following: 

  • Therapy or counseling

  • Sleep medications or anti-depressants

  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercise or a healthy diet 

  • Meditation and mindfulness-based therapies

Before starting, changing, or stopping a medication, consult your primary care physician or psychiatrist for further guidance. 

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Sleep deprivation and depression can be challenging

Counseling options 

Therapy and counseling are standard treatment options for both insomnia and depression. However, it can be challenging for many clients to get out of bed and remember to attend an appointment when living with depression. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be more available. 

Studies show that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for depression. One literature review found that online therapy was as effective as traditional therapy for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as other mental health conditions, including panic disorder. 

When you sign up for an online platform, you can attend sessions weekly from any location with an internet connection. In addition, if you’re struggling to care for yourself, you might benefit from being able to choose between phone, video, and chat sessions. You don’t have to show your face or location in a chat or phone session, which can benefit many clients. 

Takeaway

Sleep deprivation and depression often co-occur. In addition, the presence of one can contribute to the other. Treating symptoms of both may be possible with treatment through a therapist or psychiatrist. Consider reaching out to a professional, and know you’re not alone in the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Learn the impacts of sleep deprivation
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