Depression can strike at any time of the day, but for some people suffering from the illness, night time can be particularly harsh. The lack of sunlight and the quiet leaves plenty of time to think, which can cause some to focus more on their struggles, fears, disappointments, and losses. Night time depression can also lead to insomnia, which can cause depression to worsen in the day, like a big, vicious cycle.
The Link Between Depression and Sleep
Depression and sleep disturbances are such a common theme that the sleep disturbances are considered a hallmark symptom of the illness. No one is quite certain if depression causes sleep disturbances, or if sleep disturbances cause depression. One thing we do know is that people with depression sleep differently than people without it. Healthy people cycle slowly through REM sleep three to four times a night; depressed people, on the other hand, lapse into REM sleep quickly and it is far deeper and more intense. It is theorized that people who lapse into REM sleep in such an unhealthy way over-consolidate negative memories, leading them to remember more bad things than good things.
Symptoms of a Sleep Disturbance
It is normal to have a few “bad” nights of sleep every month; however, when sleep becomes a problem on a more regular basis, this is known as insomnia. Insomnia is not simply an inability to fall asleep. Symptoms of insomnia can also include waking up during the night and having difficulty falling back asleep, waking up too early in the morning, or feeling very tired upon waking up. There are two types of insomnia. Primary insomnia is a sleep disorder that is not associated with any other health problem. Secondary insomnia is caused by an underlying health problem, or medication or alcohol consumption.
Symptoms of Depression
To determine if a sleep disturbance is caused by depression, or if depression is caused by a sleep disturbance, it is important to know the symptoms of depression. Being able to recognize the signs can help your physician diagnose and treat you. The signs and symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability or emptiness; feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and a loss of enjoyment in things that used to be pleasurable. Someone with depression might have a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and they may changes in appetite. In very serious cases, they may have suicidal feelings or thoughts of death.
Treatment for depression usually consists of psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, or a combination of both. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is especially encouraged as it teaches patients how to change their negative thought patterns that are related to depressed feelings.
Sleep disorders are treated with a type of medication known as hypnotics. Some doctors prescribe antidepressants with a sedating effect (such as Seroquel) along with a hypnotic drug, in the hopes of treating both the sleep disorder and depression at the same time. Psychotherapy can also help if sleep problems are stress-related.
Insomnia can be a very frustrating condition, but there are some ways people can help to prevent and improve the situation. Patients with insomnia can practice relaxation and deep breathing exercises. They can make a list of what they need to do the next day and tell themselves that they will not think about it until that time comes. It is also important to get regular exercise, avoid excess caffeine and nicotine, and get up and do something when they can’t sleep, rather than toss and turn in bed. It is also helpful to limit the bedroom to sleep and sexual activity.