man with pills and alcohol

Tossing and turning in bed, staring at the ceiling, counting imaginary sheep, eyes wide open… you can’t sleep, that’s obvious. Tomorrow you’ll be all bleary eyed and yawning, this is what happens with less sleep at night… for starters. While yawning and rubbing your eyes are physical effects of a sleepless night, you can start thinking morbidly. “Why am I alive? Why is my life like this?”, such thoughts flutter through your head. It’s a lovely sunny day outside but for you, dark rain clouds persist. Feeling sad or depressed, with little or no self-esteem is actually normal after a night of disturbed or no sleep.

The link between lack of sleep and depression is similar to a “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” riddle. In this case, does a lack of sleep cause depression or does a depressed state of mind cause sleeplessness? To add to this confusion, here’s another point: does lack of sleep denote insomnia or sleep deprivation?

Sleep and Depression

First let us deal with sleeplessness on the whole. You may want to sleep but you just cannot fall asleep, no matter what you do. Or you fall asleep only to keep waking up. This is insomnia. It can be temporary (acute and transient) or it can be permanent (chronic). And insomnia can be a cause of and be caused by depression. If you have difficulty sleeping, such abnormal functioning can make you depressed and sad. Your thoughts can turn morbid. On the other hand, if you are suffering from depression, your mind is upset and will not allow you to sleep in peace. Even if you sleep for a little time, you will find yourself awakened by disturbing thoughts and ideas. So your insomnia can be a sign or symptom of clinical depression. On the flip side, too much sleeping can also be a sign of depression. A depressed person can sleep the entire day away, to avoid facing another day with a depressed self.

Sleep deprivation is not a disorder like insomnia. Rather it can be thought of as not getting the correct amount of sleep, as required by your body. An adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep at night for normal functioning. Sleep is a restorative state of activeness, where the body functions at a minimum, to replenish energy levels for the next day. If on a regular basis, an individual gets only 5 or 6 hours, the decrease in sleep quantity can cause all sorts of unwanted effects, as the body did not rest and is functioning at half its strength. When you are tired from a lack of sleep, situations and events that you normally face can tire you out even more and this can lead to depression. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney, on young adults between 17 and 24, showed that for every 1 hour less of night sleep, mental and emotional distress levels rose by 5%. Less sleep means increased chances of showing mental disorder symptoms. And if you suffer from a mental illness like bipolar disorder or depression, your condition is aggravated even more. An older study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in 1997, showed that those who get just 5 hours or less sleep for 1 week, are angrier, more stressed out and experience severe anxiety and sadness.

Aside from depression, below are other lack of sleep symptoms:

Mental State

  • Delusions and hallucinatory thoughts
  • Difficulty in remembering things
  • Lapses in memory
  • Short or bad temper
  • Feeling on edge
  • Cannot focus or pay attention
  • Reactions and senses are dimmed or inactive
  • Difficulty in learning or understanding
  • Decision-making is hampered

Physical Effects

  • Muscle pains and aches
  • Headaches
  • Red or bloodshot eyes with puffy bags under them
  • Tremors and shivers in the hands
  • Abnormal weight gain or loss
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart problems and diabetes
  • Pale and unnatural skin tone
  • Dozing off in public

Treatment Options

It’s clear from the above side effects of little or no sleep, that prolonged lack of sleep can cause serious complications for an individual’s well-being. Especially for those with a history of depression or other mental illnesses. Treatment options include therapy or medications. Actually a combination of the above 2 treatment methods is a better and a balanced way to solve such problems. Talking to a trained professional eases the mind and helps cope with difficulties, while medications can relax the body and aid with symptoms. Avoid addiction to sleeping pills and antidepressants. If you want to avoid medication altogether, meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques will help you sleep naturally. Exercise and be more active. Walk or jog and go for weekend hikes, your body will be worked out and you will feel the need to sleep. Cut down on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, which are natural sleep hindrances. Your bedroom is where you sleep, maintain that discipline, do not watch TV or work in bed. Cool, quiet and dark, key points to describe your sleeping environment.

In conclusion, lack of sleep and depression are deeply linked, one feeds and drives the other, in a vicious circle with severe mental and physical complications for the victim. Even without depression, you should get a good night’s sleep to keep you physically and mentally fit.