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An important part of treating our mental health is understanding how our behaviors and experiences contribute to worse mental health symptoms.

For example, if you have a fear of spiders, and you purposefully avoid situations that might cause you to see spiders, your fear of spiders gets worse. This is the psychology of avoidance, which we mentioned in a past article. Or, if you have panic attacks, the way you breathe when you have panic disorder can actually trigger future panic attacks.

Our brains are complicated structures that work in equally complicated, often cyclical ways.  

We also see this with depression, and one of the most common ways that this manifests is with the relationship between depression and sleep. Depression can cause sleeping issues and, to make matters worse, sleeping issues can cause depression. Understanding this relationship can help you make better decisions in order to help address your depression and also understand why you may feel the way you feel.

How Depression Causes Sleep Issues and Disturbances

Depression itself causes issues with sleep, both quality and frequency. Depression can cause both insomnia (inability to sleep) and hypersomnia (excessive sleep). Some of the scientific findings that relate to depression’s affect on sleep include:

  • Depression reduces REM sleep and affects how the body goes in and out of sleep stages.
  • Depression dysregulates melatonin, which his the hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycles.
  • Depression increases the likelihood of waking up in short bursts during sleep.
  • Depression reduces deep sleep time.
  • Depressed people tend to take longer to fall asleep at night.

These are all findings that implicate depression as a cause for possible sleep related problems.

How Sleep Issues Can Contribute to Depression

So, we know that depression can cause sleep issues. But where challenges arise is that science has shown that sleep issues can cause depression. Examples of these findings include:

  • Sleep deprivation studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can cause depression-related symptoms, or exacerbate symptoms in those that already have depression.
  • Sleep disturbances cause abnormalities in regions of the brain that are linked to mood regulation and negative bias, increasing the frequency of negative thinking.
  • Sleep quality issues can alter the portions of the brain that are responsible for good decision making and stress coping.

Numerous studies have linked poor sleep, chronic insomnia, and a host of sleep issues with the development and maintenance of depression, although exactly how they are linked is not always clear. Nevertheless, it is clear that sleep issues can both cause depression and increase depression related symptoms.

Breaking the Poor Sleep/Depression Cycle

Sleep is not the only cause of depression, nor is depression the only cause of poor sleep. But the cyclical nature of the two – where poor sleep leads to depression and depression leads to poor sleep – is still very important for those with depression to recognize and understand, as they can help explain symptoms and experiences, and also help improve decision making about when to rest.

This is one of many examples of the ways that our mental health is more complicated than many of us believe. It is also why, by treating depression, we can improve our sleep quality which may also improve or depression. If you feel like you’ve been down or sad, reach out to a therapist and start receiving the support you need to improve your mental health.

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