Depression and Its Impact on Sleep

Depression and Its Impact on Sleep

Falling and staying asleep is one of the most common symptoms people suffering from depression experience. Therefore, we can conclude that there’s a strong connection between sleep and depression. Here are some of the ways depression can impact sleep.

Extended Sleep Onset Latency

In sleep terms, sleep onset latency (SOL) is the time it takes a person to transition from full wakefulness to sleep, i.e. to the lightest non-REM sleep stage. People suffering from depression usually report that it takes them too long to fall asleep and then have difficulties staying asleep.

In sleep science, this is called prolonged sleep onset latency and it is highly important to subjective sleep quality. Namely, prolonged SOL can result in a poor quality of sleep with increased sleep preoccupation and hyperarousal which then leads to abnormal sleep patterns.

Lack of Slow Wave Sleep

Lack of slow-wave sleep also referred to as deep sleep, is yet another way depression can impact sleep. When speaking of depression and NREM (non-rapid eye movement), lack of slow-wave sleep is more noticeable in the NREM stage. Plus, quantitative electroencephalography research during sleep shows a reduction in delta power.

Reduced REM Sleep Latency and Extended REM Sleep Density

Depression can also influence REM (rapid eye movement) stages, not only NREM sleep stages. Research shows that depression patients report reduced REM sleep latency and increased REM density accompanied by a higher frequency of rapid eye movements which eventually normalizes as soon as the person goes into remission. However, reduced REM sleep latency continues even though the rapid eye movements become normal.

Depression and Insomnia

The truth is, people suffering from insomnia have a higher risk of suffering from depression. Precisely speaking, slightly over 80% of people with depression suffer from insomnia too. Insomnia patients have significantly higher depression levels when compared to those who do not suffer from this sleep disorder. Furthermore, these people also have increased insomnia frequency and numbers of awakenings which are all closely connected to depression and anxiety.

In addition, since it is quite common for psychiatric patients to have sleep disturbances, we can easily conclude that the relationship between these two is more than evident. Indeed, nearly 40% of insomnia patients actually have psychiatric disorders, most commonly depression. 

How to Treat Depression?

Treating depression can sometimes be as simple as introducing lifestyle changes. But, oftentimes, a combination of treatments and therapies is needed. Here’s a list of the most common treatment options:

Lifestyle Changes

As we already mentioned, introducing some lifestyle modifications can help in fighting depression by ensuring a healthy body and mind.

To achieve this, patients should follow a healthy diet full of fatty acids, amino acids, and complex carbohydrates. Then, they should stick to a sleep schedule to improve sleep quantity and quality. Finally, depression patients should exercise regularly to stimulate the body’s natural antidepressant production.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One of the most common types of psychotherapy used to treat depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy focuses on modifying thought patterns to improve behavior and mood based on the belief that adverse actions and feelings are a result of distorted thoughts.

Psychopharmacological Intervention

Psychopharmacology is the study of the effects medications have on mood, sensation, thinking, and behavior and how they can be used to treat mental disorders. This study has shown that certain medications can help in treating depression including MAO-inhibitors, Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), atypical antidepressants, augmenting agents, and herbal preparations.

Other Treatments

Apart from the above-mentioned, there are also some other depression treatment options. One option is a vagal nerve stimulator which is an implanted device that stimulates vagal afferent fibers in the neck and thus modulates depression’s neural circuitry. Another option is a noninvasive procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation which stimulates brain nerve cells by using magnetic fields. Last but not least, light therapy, also called phototherapy, is also beneficial in treating seasonal depression by compensating for the lack of sunlight exposure.