The sleep and depression link is somewhat similar to the chicken and the egg argument. Those who are sleep deprived have a higher propensity for depression, while at the same time those who are depressed, usually report difficulty with sleep and sleep disturbances. Each situation is different, but there is strong evidence that the two are highly interrelated. The link between sleep and depression has been medically well established. If you are experiencing either or both conditions, it is important to understand how they affect one another.
According to findings reported in Psych Central, “healthy sleep is a necessity for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.” Furthermore, “the first study of 1,788 adult twins discovered a gene by environment interaction between self- reported sleep duration and depressive symptoms.” The findings indicate that, although the link between sleep and genetics have a high correlation, sleep increases the risk factor for depressive symptoms 53% more than the 27% noted for heredity.
Sleep Cycles and Depression
Although recommendations suggest that the average person gets between 7.5 and eight hours of sleep at night, it isn’t about the length of sleep, but the quality. Depression is related not to the hours that you spend sleeping, but the cycles that the brain can complete during the sleep session. During sleep, the brain will cycle through various stages. First are the initial phases, or slow-wave sleep stages, which are followed by what is called REM or rapid eye movement sleep. REM is a time when the brain is most active. When we think about sleep we envision the brain resting, but during REM it is exactly the opposite.
According to The Best Brain Possible, people who spend too much time in REM sleep, and not enough time in the beginning phases or slow-wave stages, don’t get the downtime that the brain needs to rejuvenate and refresh itself. It is, for that reason, that many antidepressant medications work by decreasing the active time in REM and increasing the most restorative phases of slow-wave.
During sleep, your brain goes through various stages and cycles from beginning to end. If a person is not able to complete a cycle due to interrupted sleep or not enough time, the brain never gets to restore itself. That leaves a person feeling exhausted without time to renew. Those who wake in the beginning stages of sleep, instead of being woken during the deeper stages, feel more rested. Knowing that you cycle through the stages every hour to an hour and a half, there are ways to monitor your sleep for a more restful night. It is a lack of restoration that can lead to mood disturbances and depression.
Depression’s Effect on Sleeping
There are ways in which depression can exasperate the quality of sleep that you get, only further perpetuating the depressive condition. According to Sleep Habits, it can cause disruptions by making it difficult to fall asleep, to stay asleep, by sleeping too much or too little, or by making the quality of sleep less conducive. When someone is feeling stressed out or depressed, it is not uncommon for them to ruminate, worry, or mentally have a hard time resting enough to fall asleep.
The link between sleep and depression is well established, but it is important to understand what the causal association is for each. In some cases, there may also be a third underlying medical cause fostering both conditions. Since sleep is an important component of overall well-being, finding the cause for sleeplessness is important to getting a good night’s rest and affecting your mood and feelings of depression in a positive way.
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