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Insomnia Caused by Depression

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 6 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Insomnia Depressive Illness Depression

For many years insomnia was viewed as a symptom of depression, but this is no longer the case. Insomnia is now known to be a major risk factor for both new depression diagnosis, and recurrent depression. Sleep dysfunctions and depression can also still occur separately despite insomnia being a major feature of depressive disorders. Statistics vary but it is estimated that approximately three quarters of depressed individuals also experience insomnia.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia refers to sleep difficulties and this can take many different forms such as:

  • Waking up too early
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Trouble falling asleep each night

Many people have the odd night where they can't obtain restful sleep. Insomnia is different in that it is a chronic difficulty either falling or staying asleep long enough to meet the body's needs for sleep. This lack of quality sleep leaves a person with impaired functioning each day and keeps them from carrying out tasks to the best of their ability. Most adults require approximately eight hours of sleep but the best indicator is how you feel. If you awaken feeling tired, it is likely that you are not getting enough sleep. Insomnia can leave you feeling exhausted, irritable and struggling to concentrate.

How Does Insomnia Lead To Depression?

The effects of insomnia, over time, can have an enormous impact on daily functioning. Struggling to function at work and school as well as in relationships, people who suffer from insomnia become overwhelmed, fatigued and may find that they are simply not able to cope. These feelings can lead to guilt, sadness and hopelessness about life and the future. When these feelings are occurring regularly and over several weeks or more, a person who sees a doctor will probably receive a diagnosis of depression.

Insomnia as a Symptom of Depression

People who are emotionally upset or anxious often find that they frequently awaken at night or have trouble falling asleep. It's difficult to relax when your mind is 'racing' and you can't seem to stop worrying about various aspects of your life. It's more difficult because a depressed person often wishes he or she could sleep more and forget the pain of life when awake, but insomnia then exacerbates the other symptoms of depression, making it more difficult to treat.

Can Treating One Fix The Other?

It has been thought that by treating depression, the symptom of insomnia will just disappear but this is not automatically the case. Chronic insomnia can't simply be ignored; it has to be treated alongside the depression.Some of the things you can do to help ensure a restful sleep are to:

  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
  • Do something relaxing, like having a hot bath or reading a book.
  • Have a light snack-a hungry tummy can keep you up late but so can a full one.
  • Play soft music.
  • Try to avoid anything emotionally distressing.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and aromatherapy.

Your doctor may recommend antidepressants or mood stabilisers to treat your depression. Some of these can make you quite drowsy and as such, may help you to sleep better each night. As they work to alleviate depression, your insomnia may ease as well. Talking therapies are helpful for addressing insomnia directly, particularly when it occurs due to sources of anxiety and worry that may be preventing you from relaxing enough to get a good night's rest. Ideally, you should try relaxation therapies and other simple measures first before embarking upon specific medications for insomnia. Many of these are habit-forming when used long-term and can cause unpleasant side effects.

Ultimately, insomnia is both a symptom of depression and a primary disorder that can precede it. Treating insomnia when it first begins can help some people prevent depressive episodes. Treating depression may also help insomnia and your doctor will recommend an appropriate course of action. Generally, both depression and insomnia need to be addressed individually and it should not be assumed that they are linked, as this can prevent proper treatment. The hope is that you can obtain a good night's rest and also feel joy and fulfilment each day.

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