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Depression and Sleep: What Is the Connection?

Vicky Davis

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/2/2022

It's 3 AM, and though you know you should be sleeping, you’re wasting your remaining hours of sleep checking email updates. 

Losing sleep isn't something you’d ever expect to make you happier, but sleep loss can increase your risk of depression and other mood disorders. 

Whether you're already experiencing depression symptoms in addition to sleep disturbance or not, interruptions to your circadian rhythms can begin to lay the foundation for more than just baggy eyes — they can be precursors to symptoms of depression.

An ongoing chain of sleepless nights could very well cause a depressive disorder like major depression if left unaddressed. 

Read on to learn more about what you can do to prevent depression and improve your sleep cycle.

Can Depression Cause Sleep Loss?

There are a few things you should know about clinical depression, and the first is that a depressive disorder won’t necessarily look the same for every person who has it. 

Symptoms can be intense or mild, debilitating daily or only occasional, and those symptoms can vary from person to person. 

Common symptoms that occur with depression include general sadness, down feelings and a mixture of hopelessness and pervasive numbness. 

Pervasiveness and frequency are important when determining the difference between depression and just feeling bummed out — those low feelings must recur and affect your thoughts, feelings, and ability to perform regular activities like sleeping, eating and working. 

Depressive disorders may make you feel  tired, angry and irritable, behave recklessly, drink and abuse substances, have motivational problems — and yes, experience problems sleeping.

Some common signs of depression include losing interest in things you enjoy, gaining or losing weight, fatigue, headaches, cramps, digestive problems and thoughts of suicide. 

If you’re experiencing several of the above issues, it might be helpful to check out our depression symptoms checklist to determine what’s going on. 

Consulting with a healthcare provider or mental health professional is also a good idea.

Why Depression and Sleep Loss Are Connected 

Sleep deprivation or insomnia can actually be a symptom of depression, and it’s important to understand that, like depression, there’s a difference between a bad night of sleep and insomnia. 

Insomnia is actually its own kind of disorder — and is a sleep disorder. With insomnia, a person has regular or frequent trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.

And as with depression, there is more than one type of insomnia — in this case you might have either chronic insomnia or acute insomnia.

Let’s start with acute insomnia, which will typically last just a short time, generally for days or weeks at most. 

Acute insomnia shows up due to sudden or new stressors, traumas or problems that might occur anywhere.

Chronic insomnia meanwhile doesn’t have a neat little end date, and will typically last at least a month. 

Chronic insomnia can last much longer, too, and is often brought on by a secondary condition, like depression. 

Chronic insomnia — in other words — is frequently caused by another disorder or illness. It can be triggered by conditions like stress and depression, as well as sleep apnea, anxiety or even medications you may be taking. 

Caffeine and tobacco use can also cause chronic insomnia.  

Sometimes chronic insomnia is not in fact caused by another underlying condition, and when this happens, it’s referred to as primary insomnia, instead.

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Can Sleep Loss or Insomnia Cause Depression?

As mentioned above, insomnia can be caused by depression as insomnia or sleep loss can be a symptom of depression. But can depression be caused by insomnia? Yes and no.

It’s not necessarily the case that having insomnia first might cause depression. Someone might experience insomnia from the same triggers that can cause stress associated with some mood disorders. That might include work or personal stress, grief or anxiety, or chronic illness.

But you can increase your chances of experiencing depression if you allow yourself to have enough ongoing insomnia. 

A 2016 meta analysis looked at the relationship between insomnia and depression, and compared 34 studies representing more than 170,000 participants. 

The researchers concluded that insomnia presented a “significant association” with the risk of depression. The 34 studies (published between 1989 and 2014) represented research on multiple continents, examined both men and women, and had an average duration of about 60 months. 

And while the authors of the meta analysis noted some variables that made quantifying results a challenging exercise, they were confident that the data showed a firm association. 

These results are ultimately a good thing for the medical community and for you. While a higher depression risk due to insomnia is bad, knowing about a treatable risk factor (like sleep loss) can actually help prevent some forms of depression — if we act accordingly.

How to Treat Sleep Loss and Depression

Sleep difficulties can be dealt with in a variety of ways, from prescription and over the counter medications to diet and exercise changes. 

It’s curable, in the sense that its causes can be addressed and dealt with. 

Treatment for depression, however, is about symptom management — and can be done via a variety of therapies and medications. 

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medications affect the serum serotonin levels in your brain directly as a means to regulate your moods, and these can be extremely effective when safely taken under the supervision of a mental health professional. 

A 2015 comprehensive examination of studies looked at medications on the market today and found that serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were among the most effective.

SSRIs, as it turns out, are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. These medications block your neurons by reabsorbing serotonin, leaving a larger supply more readily available when you need it for normal mood regulation. 

SSRIs are known to have fewer side effects than other medications, but sexual dysfunction, weight changes, some anxiety, occasional dizziness, and things like dry mouth and headaches have been reported (as have sleep issues).

Note: The FDA has issued a blackbox warning for antidepressants like SSRIs due to a potential increased risk of suicide for young adults ages 25 and younger.

Therapeutic Practices

A wide range of psychotherapies are available, but one of the most popular on the market today is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help people with depression recognize disordered, depressive thinking that may make depressive symptoms worse without correction. 

Once you’ve recognized them, they become easier to control. A mental health professional might suggest CBT or meditation practices, as well as meditation.

While studies are limited, they do provide evidence that meditation could help reduce your symptoms of depression and make them more manageable.

Habit and Lifestyle Changes

There are things outside of your brain that can affect your sleep periods — and in turn, also affect your mood. 

Healthcare professionals might look at your blood pressure, diet and weight, and they might also look at other lifestyle practices and habits that could be making depression and its symptoms worse. Regardless, taking care of your health is always a good idea. 

Important changes like reducing your drinking or tobacco intake are good for your whole body. 

Additionally, exercise can even be as effective as medication for depression in some circumstances. 

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Depression and Sleep: The Connection for You

Dealing with sleep loss and/or depression isn’t something you can ignore until it goes away. It likely will never go away if left untreated, and one can in fact worsen the other. They work both ways.

Take the first steps. Contact a mental health professional to discuss your feelings and see what your treatment options may be. 

Talk to a healthcare provider about insomnia. Take your health seriously, and don’t wait. 

Taking care of yourself can help you sleep better at night.

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.