Is Lack of Sleep Linked to Depression?

By Erika Krull, LMHP

Sleep problems and depression symptoms often go hand in hand. People with depression tend to feel sluggish and unrested, while those struggling with sleep issues can feel frustrated and mentally overwhelmed. Researchers are still learning about the connection between sleep and depression, but there are many ways to address the symptoms you may be having.

How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting Each Night?

Every person is unique, but most adults need 7–8 hours of sound sleep every night to function well. When you feel rested after a long period of sleep with few interruptions, you’ve had good quality sleep. Restful sleep is essential for supporting your immune system and mental activities.

It’s common to have trouble sleeping from time to time. Restless sleep can make you feel miserable for a day or two, but most people can quickly get back to their regular sleep schedule. However, ongoing sleep problems are a health concern. People with untreated sleep issues can be at a higher risk for heart disease, obesity and other chronic health conditions.

Symptoms of Depression

A person with depression may feel like they’re trapped in a dark hole, and their low mood and low self-worth often affect their view of the world. A person can’t simply shake off depression; these feelings and experiences persist, making it difficult to get through day-to-day activities. The symptoms most commonly associated with depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in most activities you usually enjoy
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Change of appetite — either overeating or lack of appetite
  • Sleep disruption — either insomnia or oversleeping
  • Noticeable change in physical activity — either sluggishness or restlessness
  • Being easily fatigued, loss of energy
  • Thoughts of being worthless, excessive feelings of guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating, loss of focus, trouble making decisions
  • Repeatedly thinking about death, suicidal thoughts or attempts

Symptoms of Insomnia and Sleeplessness

Insomnia is a condition that makes a person have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both. It can happen to anyone, but it often occurs when a person is under stress or dealing with a changing sleep schedule. Insomnia can also develop with several mental health disorders, including depression.

An insomnia diagnosis includes both nighttime and daytime symptoms. Some people struggle with short bouts of insomnia, while others may develop a chronic sleep problem. For weeks or months at a time, people with insomnia may:

  • Lie awake for hours before falling asleep
  • Wake up too early without falling back asleep
  • Wake up multiple times when trying to sleep
  • Only get short periods of sleep
  • Feel unrested most days
  • Feel irritable with a low tolerance for frustration
  • Have trouble staying focused and paying attention
  • Show hyperactive or aggressive behavior
  • Feel unmotivated
  • Get more headaches
  • Have lower performance at school or work

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

The habits you create around sleep can impact your health and daily functioning. These tips can help you establish good sleep hygiene to help you get as much restful sleep as possible.

Only Use Your Bed for Sleeping and Sex

Watching TV or scrolling on your phone stimulates your brain, so doing these activities in bed can make it harder to wind down. Instead, reserve your bed for only sleep and sex. These are pleasurable, relaxing activities that are often associated with nighttime. By using your bed only for sleep and sex, you train your brain to turn off mental distractions and relax in bed.

Exercise Regularly

The exact connection between exercise and sleep isn’t known. However, the cycle of exercising and resting your body is linked to more restful sleep. More vigorous exercise promotes the best quality sleep for most people.

Avoid Caffeine Late in the Day

Caffeine can give you a buzz within 30 to 60 minutes, but it also sticks around in your body for up to ten hours. In other words, an afternoon cup of coffee or energy drink may keep you awake hours later. To avoid this, count back ten hours from your bedtime to get your caffeine cut-off time.

Stick To a Routine

Good bedtime habits help your brain remember when it’s time to shut down. They prepare your mind and body for a night of sleep. When distracting thoughts come up, your bedtime routine can encourage you to relax and rest for the night.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol acts as a sedative and can make you fall asleep quickly, but this effect is temporary and deceptive. Alcohol disrupts your sleep cycles, which can lead to poor quality sleep. Limit how much alcohol you consume and avoid drinking too close to bedtime.

Skip the Afternoon Nap

Napping late in the day reduces your body’s need for sleep in the short term. A nap may help if you’re recovering from illness or are making up a large sleep deficit, but if you make it a habit, afternoon naps may leave you feeling too awake at bedtime.

Speak With a Doctor

You can improve many sleep problems with self-help methods, but sleep problems and depression often go together. If the suggestions mentioned above don’t help and your symptoms persist, it may be time to speak to a doctor. Medical guidance can help you understand the bigger picture and learn how to improve both conditions. Here’s what that process may look like:

  • Observe your symptoms and habits: Make a list of symptoms related to your sleep and depression. Consider how often each symptom occurs and how bothersome they are. Be ready to answer questions about your sleep habits as well.
  • Meet with a local doctor or mental health provider: If you don’t have a regular doctor, ask friends and family for referrals. A mental health therapist may also be able to help with your sleep issues.
  • Talk about your symptoms: If you’re hesitant to talk about your depression symptoms, start with your sleep issues. Your health care providers want to help, but it’s common to feel uncertain talking about mental health at first.
  • Discuss treatment options: Your doctor may discuss counseling, support groups and possibly medication for either condition. Ask about sleep studies being held in your area.
  • Be patient: Sleep and depression issues can take time to improve. Plan on making a follow-up visit after several weeks to discuss your progress.

The free-to-use Nobu app can help you take important steps toward improving your mental and physical well-being. For an additional fee, you can even connect with a licensed mental health professional and receive therapy for depression, addiction and other mental health concerns. Learn more on our website, and experience the difference Nobu can make in your life.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.

Written by – Erika Krull, LMHP

Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. She is a healthcare writer specializing in mental health content for professional training modules, blogs, and websites… Read more.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.