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How Depression & Sleep Deprivation Reinforce One Another

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Mental health is intricately linked to sleep. We’ve written before about anxiety disorders and how often they coexist with insomnia. This week, we’re shifting the focus to depression, the second most common mental illness in Australia after anxiety.

Depression and insomnia seem to have a reciprocal relationship. In other words, in one of the most unfair vicious cycles in existence, depression negatively affects sleep, and poor sleep, in turn, contributes to depression.

Sleep disturbances, including insomnia (and in some cases, sleeping too much) are among the most common symptoms of major depression. For the uninitiated, depression is not the same as feeling sad once in a while. Sufferers of depression may feel sad, hopeless, and empty with or without the presence of an obvious trigger. In a major depressive episode, these symptoms can be prolonged, debilitating, and even life-threatening. Depression is stubbornly resistant to good circumstances and encouraging words from well-meaning friends. Major depressive episodes typically require medical intervention to improve.

Research shows that depression and insomnia frequently appear together, and that increased insomnia is a reliable indicator of an increase in depressive symptoms.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain’s ability to regulate your emotions drops significantly. Sleep deprived people are more likely to misinterpret neutral stimuli (such as facial expressions or tones of voice) as negative or threatening, tend to be moody and reactive, and generally feel sad or down. Based on brain-imaging scans, researchers suspect that this occurs because links between parts of your brain that are supposed to regulate emotion go haywire when you don’t sleep enough.

To sum up, research suggests that even healthy people have trouble looking on the bright side when they don’t get enough sleep. That’s why, just as with anxiety, depression and insomnia are now often diagnosed and treated simultaneously. The upshot of the fact they reinforce each other is that successfully treating one also tends to help alleviate the other.

If you think you may be suffering from depression, please seek the help of a health professional. Check out this list of national help lines and websites for support.

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