Depression and Sleep: They make strange bedfellows

by Jay Reid

Depression and sleep are often at odds with each other.  Going to sleep requires coming to a state of rest.  Depression often means wrestling with such unsolvable problems as feelings of:

  • Being fundamentally flawed
  • Hopelessness about your life ever getting better
  • Searing guilt over something you did that day
  • Dread of impending doom.

These experiences usually require our attention and they don’t stop just because it’s nighttime.  As we turn these issues over and over in our heads, the hours can tick away.  We may find ourselves robbed of a good night’s sleep and exhausted to start the day.

Sleeping too much…

None of these experiences make it easy for your mind and body to come to a state of rest.  It just feels like there’s too much that needs to be fixed.  Unfortunately, the impossibility of solving these states of bad humor can keep one awake into the night and make the next day even harder.

The cycle is vicious:

Depression makes it hard to get to and stay asleep   the effects of sleeplessness diminish your sense of ‘can-do-it’-ness in the world you have yet another reason to feel depressed.

Sleeping too little…

Sleep can also come too easily when depressed.  When you feel helpless to convince yourself that ‘everything will be OK’ there’s a natural desire for everything to just stop.  Sleep can be this antidote.  For adolescents and young adults under 30, this solution can be particularly appealing.  Sleeping immediately after school or work and for long stretches on the weekends can provide blessed relief from the torture of a depressed state.  Oversleeping also has its consequences – instead of feeling refreshed one can feel disoriented, restless, lethargic, and/or slow in speech and thought.  So, the feeling of being able to capably function in the world gets eroded again.

Why does sleeping too much or too little worsen depression?

Being out of kilter in your sleeping cycle reduces your quality of life.  People find it difficult to concentrate, feel lethargic or exhausted, have no energy, or want to nap during daytime hours.  It’s easy to see how this kind of experience could interfere with pursuing and achieving important life goals.

Why it’s important to track your sleep

Disturbance in sleep is one of the core symptoms of depression.  Of course, just because your sleep cycle is off does not meant that you are depressed.  It does mean that you should check in with yourself – or even take a depression self-quiz – regularly to see how you’re feeling about yourself, your relationships and your future.  Research tells us that people who have insomnia are much more likely to experience depression one year later.

If you have recovered from a bout of depression and notice your sleep cycle getting off track, this could signal a relapse.  Consider taking preventive measures such as talking to a psychotherapist and/or reviewing your medications with your prescribing physician if applicable.

I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).  If you are noticing disturbances in your sleeping cycle and would like to see if psychotherapy might be useful,  please  contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

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