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What is the Connection Between Depression and Sleep Disorder?

By H. Colledge
Updated May 17, 2024
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Depression is a type of mental illness where a person experiences persistent feelings of sadness and an inability to feel pleasure. There is a connection between depression and sleep disorder because sleep disorders are common in people who have depression. Sleep problems, such as having problems falling asleep and finding it difficult to remain asleep, can be symptoms of depression. The connection between depression and sleep disorder also works in reverse and, while having a sleep disorder does not cause depression on its own, it can make the illness worse. This close relationship between the two conditions has a positive aspect, in that treatment of one disorder generally leads to improvement of the other.

In someone who has the mood disorder known as depression, a number of different depression-related sleep disorders may arise, but most of them involve increased wakefulness and restlessness. It might take a long time before the person is able to fall asleep, a condition known as sleep onset insomnia. Once asleep, the person may frequently wake up, in what is called sleep maintenance insomnia. In other cases, depression and sleep disorder may lead to people still feeling tired after their sleep, sometimes leading to drowsiness during the day. Depression does not always cause sleep deprivation, and occasionally people with depression may find they sleep more than usual.

Research into depression and sleep disorder shows that a person who already has a sleep problem may have an increased risk of developing depression, and the risk is greatest for those who have a combination of sleep maintenance insomnia and sleep onset insomnia. Women and older people are more likely to experience difficulties with sleep and depression. There is also a relationship between a condition called sleep apnea and depression. In sleep apnea, people who are asleep repeatedly stop breathing for short periods, at the same time moving into a lighter form of sleep. This means that they experience less deep sleep and wake up still feeling tired.

Depression and sleep disorder can be treated together and, in most cases, psychotherapy, a talking treatment, is used in combination with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is commonly used to treat both depression and sleep disorder. Antidepressant drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may be effective. For people suffering from sleep apnea, it is important not to use drugs which have a sedative effect as they could make breathing more difficult. Whatever regime is used, improving any associated sleep disorder plays a crucial part in the successful treatment of depression.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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