How Depression Affects Your Sleep

Although a few short nights can make us cranky and irritable, generally our mood returns to normal once we've resumed our regular sleeping routine. For individuals who struggle with depression, however, insomnia can be a chronic problem.

The symptoms of depression and insomnia overlap and there's a direct relationship between the two. Insomnia is a strong marker for depression. Individuals who develop insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression. Approximately 80 percent of those with depression suffer from insomnia and another 15 percent sleep excessively. Sleep problems are generally associated with more severe episodes of depression.

If you suffer from insomnia, you may have trouble falling and staying asleep, or you may struggle with daytime sleepiness and experience poor overall quality of sleep. Having trouble falling and remaining asleep puts you at greatest risk for developing depression. Some individuals may have risk factors and biological features that predispose them to both depression and insomnia.

Depression affects the entire sleep cycle. Insomniacs tend to go into the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep faster. They also spend more time (and more intense time) in REM sleep. This is the phase of sleep where our brains consolidate memories, so disrupting the normal sleep cycle may lead to over-consolidation of negative memories.

Children and adolescents are particularly at risk for insomnia-induced depression. In one study of high school seniors, students who were excessively sleepy during the day were at greater risk for developing depression. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is common in this age group. Adolescents get, on average, about 6.1 hours of sleep, although they need at least nine for optimal health. This study suggests that short sleep duration may play a role in the development of depression.

People with depression are five times more likely to suffer from sleep-disordered breathing (obstructed sleep apnea). Treating sleep-related breathing disorders often relieves symptoms of depression.

Sleep disorders may complicate treatment for depression. For example, some antidepressants interfere in your ability to sleep soundly. Furthermore, one of the largest studies on depression found that many individuals who take antidepressants still struggle with depressive symptoms, especially insomnia, which can lead to even more severe depression.

The good news is that both depression and insomnia are treatable. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy seems to be an effective treatment for each disorder. Patients who take antidepressants and struggle with insomnia should ask their physician for an alternative medication with a sedating affect.


ScienceDaily. "High-School Seniors With Excessive Daytime Sleepiness Have an Increased Risk of Depression." Web. 11 June 2010.

Sleep Foundation. "Depression and Sleep." Web.

Shute, Nancy. "Insomnia Plagues People Taking Antidepressants." NRP. Web. 21 April 2011.

Marano, Hara Estroff. "Bedfellows: Insomnia and Depression." Psychology Today. Web. 25 May 2007.