The intricate relationship between sleep and mental well-being is a captivating and complex interplay. It involves a delicate balance where disrupted sleep can cast a dark shadow over our emotional state, leading to stress, depression, and anxiety.
What’s even more fascinating is that psychological issues like depression or anxiety often contribute to our restless nights, creating a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc on our minds and bodies.
Affected people often don’t realize that lack of sleep is the cause
Picture this: you’re feeling down or anxious, and you’re clueless about the underlying cause. Little do you know that sleep deprivation, even in small increments, can wreak havoc on your mood.
Just one night of disturbed sleep can transform a bright and hopeful day into a gloomy landscape of worry and despair. You find yourself less enthusiastic, more irritable, and even experiencing symptoms akin to clinical depression—a persistent sense of sadness or emptiness.
These mood swings don’t just impact your mental health; they seep into every aspect of your life, tainting your relationships and altering the dynamics within your family.
Why insomnia increases the risk of depression and anxiety
As doctors and researchers delve deeper into the realm of sleep and mood, a resounding consensus emerges—there exists an intimate connection between the two.
For instance, individuals plagued by insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, face a heightened risk of depression and anxiety compared to those with regular sleep patterns.
The likelihood of developing clinical depression becomes tenfold, while the chances of experiencing clinical anxiety soar to a staggering 17 times higher.
It’s a treacherous cycle: the more frequently insomnia rears its disruptive head, the greater the likelihood of succumbing to depression.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that the sleep disorder itself may not be the sole catalyst for depression. However, the persistent lack of sleep, whether induced by a sleep disorder, underlying medical condition, or personal struggles, plays an instrumental role.
Excessive sleepiness, coupled with its profound impact on your outlook, energy levels, motivation, and emotions, can be the spark that ignites the fire of clinical depression or an anxiety disorder.
Can depression cause sleep disorders?
But does depression have the power to disturb your sleep patterns as well? Astonishingly, around 75% of individuals grappling with depression also suffer from insomnia.
In fact, one of the telltale signs of depression lies in the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Conversely, some individuals find themselves plagued by excessive sleep or hypersomnia, yet another manifestation of clinical depression.
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Untreated depression unfurls its tentacles, ensnaring you in overwhelming waves of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt, all of which conspire to disrupt your slumber.
You find yourself mulling over circumstances beyond your control, entangled in a web of anxiety and fear, exacerbating your insomnia.
Fatigue creeps into your waking hours, sapping your vitality, while a sedentary existence further deteriorates both your physical and emotional well-being—a vicious circle that entwines sleep disorders and inactivity, spawning an array of symptoms that weigh you down.
What’s the link between depression and oversleeping?
Similar to insufficient sleep due to insomnia, oversleeping could be a sign that someone is depressed.
It’s important to note that although you spend a lot of time in bed, it often means that your sleep quality is poor. That’s why too much sleep is associated with many of the same health risks as too little sleep, including heart disease, metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity, and cognitive problems, including memory loss.
Risk of misdiagnosis
The intertwined symptoms of depression and sleep disorders present a challenging puzzle, often leading to misdiagnosis of the underlying condition.
A melancholic mood might be mistaken for insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, or narcolepsy. Restless Legs Syndrome, with its discomfort and sleep disturbances, shares its elusive links with depression.
Therefore, unraveling the source of your distress becomes crucial, guiding you toward the appropriate therapeutic path.
How do you know if you are suffering from depression?
Depression is classified as a mood disorder (major depressive disorder). A person suffering from depression feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or not interested in daily activities to the extent that it interferes with their everyday activities.
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Common causes of depression are conflict, stress, (hereditary) illness, abuse, death or loss of loved ones, certain medications, genetics, or sleep disorder.
Who risks suffering from depression and insomnia?
Depression affects all types of people around the world, but certain people, including women and older people, are more likely than others to develop depression.
Among older adults, higher rates of depression and sleep problems can be partly explained by higher rates of physical illness.
In women, maternity and hormonal changes throughout the life cycle (menstruation, menopause) may contribute to higher rates of depression. This may also be a reason why women and older adults have insomnia more often than men and younger adults.
Children with depression
Many children and young people with depression suffer from sleep problems such as insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day) or both. Also, children with depression who have both insomnia and hypersomnia are more likely to have severe and prolonged depression.
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They are also more likely to suffer from too much or too little weight, restricted mobility, and anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure). Young people who feel unhappy generally report that they cannot sleep well at night.
Seasonal affective disorder and depression
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as “winter depression”, is a type of depression. SAD is thought to be influenced by the changing patterns of light and darkness that occur as winter approaches. The circadian rhythms are regulated by the body’s internal clock and by solar radiation.
As the days become shorter in the autumn, the circadian rhythms can become desynchronized and cause depression. For most people with SAD, the depressive symptoms dissolve in the spring as the days become longer as the daylight increases.
What is an anxiety disorder?
The term’ anxiety disorder’ refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry and a state of restlessness and agitation. It often goes with panic attacks, of which the common symptoms are palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a sense of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep problems.
Several issues can lead to an anxiety disorder like
- health issues like heart problems, anemia, and asthma attack
- abuse of alcohol and drugs
- certain medication that can trigger an anxiety attack
Right now, around one in five people in America have some type of anxiety disorder. There is a variety of them – in addition to generalized anxiety disorder, there is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), panic, and social anxiety disorders.
Can anxiety cause a sleep disorder?
You wake up in the middle of the night, and your mind is racing, filled with “what if” thinking. You get up to go to the bathroom. You’re up only for a few minutes, but you may have had over twenty different thoughts.
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When you get back into bed, the thoughts have filled your head so much that you cannot go back to sleep. While you lie there worrying about things that you often cannot even control, you watch the minutes that become hours simply pass by.
If that sounds like you, then you have insomnia, which is probably caused by anxiety.
The strong link between insomnia and anxiety
Research has found a very strong link between insomnia and anxiety – when a person suffers from one, they will likely suffer from both.
People who deal with anxiety disorders generally experience acute stress. It could be the trauma that they are coping with or obsessive thoughts. They may excessively worry about their current situation or what is ahead about their career, relationships, and other responsibilities in life.
Regardless of the source, the constant state of anxiety and stress puts the nervous system on high alert. So at night, as you are lying in bed filled with anxiety, your brain becomes very active, which pushes sleep even further away.
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Why is that? While your body produces the sleep hormone melatonin to send you off to sleep, the stress hormone cortisol overrides it. And the more stress you experience, the more difficult it becomes for your brain to produce the necessary melatonin to put you to sleep at night.
From transient insomnia to chronic insomnia
If your sleeplessness lasts only for a short period and the situation normalizes after a few days, there is no reason to worry. In that case, you are experiencing transient insomnia, which is usually associated with situational stress. For example, you have an upcoming tough presentation at work, an exam, or a move.
Other reasons for situational stress, which can lead to short term insomnia, are generally related to a loss of a loved one, an illness, or maybe environmental factors.
However, in some cases, these events kick off persistent worrying, which can lead to more severe sleep disturbances, such as chronic insomnia. Your insomnia can then increase your anxiety, which can lead to many other conditions later on.
Can snoring and sleep apnea cause anxiety or depression?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which you stop breathing during sleep and wake up frequently and briefly during the night.
OSA is now one of the main types of sleep disorders which can have multiple effects on your health and your daily life. It can cause insomnia at night and fatigue and headaches during the day.
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The highest risk of OSA, however, is that the temporary suspension of breathing limits the oxygen supply to the brain, which can lead to cardiovascular-related conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Additionally, what is less well known is that oxygen deficiency in the brain can also trigger anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Remember that snoring does not always mean that you have OSA. However, snoring is one of the main symptoms of OSA. So if you snore, it’s worth talking to your doctor to see if the cause is OSA.
What is the right treatment?
In many cases, if one is treated, the other is likely to improve. So managing your sleep problem may also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and vice versa.
Depending on how serious the mood disorder is, psychotherapy (talk therapy or counseling), in combination with medication (antidepressants), is a common treatment approach for depression and anxiety disorders. Antidepressants reduce the symptoms of sadness or hopelessness, while psychotherapy helps to improve coping skills and change negative attitudes and beliefs caused by depression, which also helps you to sleep better.
Why it’s better to focus more on non-drug treatment approaches
There is an issue with antidepressants. One of the side effects of many of them is that they even can worsen insomnia, which in turn can contribute to worsening the depression. Also, avoid sleeping pills if possible; in most cases, they don’t help in the long run and sometimes can even cause depression.
So in case you are suffering from depression and also experience sleeplessness, it’s essential to find the right treatment. If possible, don’t rely only on medication but focus more on non-drug treatment approaches like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
The power of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in overcoming sleep-related mental health issues
ACT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that encourages individuals to accept their experiences and emotions rather than suppressing or avoiding them. By promoting psychological flexibility, ACT helps individuals identify and align their actions with their core values. When applied to sleep-related mental health issues, ACT can provide valuable insights and tools for change.
ACT emphasizes the importance of accepting and acknowledging the challenges associated with sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. Recognizing that sleep disturbances are often interconnected with these conditions, individuals can approach their experiences with understanding and self-compassion. Acceptance of the current state of sleep and mental health allows individuals to redirect their focus towards proactive strategies for improvement.
ACT encourages individuals to commit to actions aligned with their values, even in the presence of challenging thoughts or emotions. In the context of sleep and mental health, this commitment entails engaging in behaviors that promote healthy sleep hygiene and overall well-being. By making a conscious effort to adopt positive habits and routines, individuals can positively impact their sleep quality and mental state.
A central component of ACT is mindfulness, which involves cultivating awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, can help individuals reduce rumination and anxious thoughts that often interfere with sleep. By staying present and focusing on the here and now, individuals can experience improved sleep and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
ACT emphasizes aligning actions with personal values. By identifying what truly matters to them, individuals can develop a sense of purpose and motivation to engage in behaviors that support their well-being. For example, prioritizing self-care, engaging in regular exercise, and maintaining healthy relationships are actions that can positively impact sleep and mental health.
Building Psychological Flexibility
Through ACT, individuals develop psychological flexibility, which enables them to adapt to challenging situations and respond effectively to difficult emotions. This flexibility helps individuals manage the distress associated with sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety, allowing them to make conscious choices that promote better sleep and overall mental health.
In short, ACT empowers you to lean into your experiences (instead of fighting against them), commit to positive actions, cultivate mindfulness, and align your behaviors with your core values – all stress-reducing factors that pave the way for natural, restful sleep.
Remember, you’re your best healer!
If you have read some of my posts about self-healing insomnia, you might know that I am a big advocate of using the natural self-healing capacities of our body. If applied correctly and in combination with good sleep hygiene, self-healing will help to get on the right track to overcome insomnia and a related depression or anxiety disorder.
Here are some simple ways how to get started:
- Start a simple meditation practice that will help to calm your racing mind and to increase relaxation.
- Clear your mind by journaling before going to bed. Important is not to overcomplicate this; the goal is to get the racing thoughts and worries out of your head. Just jot down whatever comes up in your mind or make a short list of activities to be completed the next day.
- Exercise regularly – but make sure that it’s a few hours before bedtime. Also, some simple activities, including walking, stretching, yoga, and pilates, can help ease sleep.
- Avoid screen-time (such as a laptop or television) before going to bed, as the light emitted by computer monitors or LCD screens suppresses the release of the natural hormone melatonin, which signals the brain to go to sleep.
- Eliminate caffeine and reduce alcohol in the evening. Keep in mind that also some medications, such as headache medicines, contain caffeine, which can lead to poor sleep.
- Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. Don’t use your bed as an ‘office’ where you go through emails or documents. In this way, your bed will become a keyword for sleeping, not for lying awake.
- Take a warm shower just before going to bed to intensify the deep sleep while your body cools down.
- Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature.
- Get blackout blinds for your bedroom to prevent outside light from disturbing you.
- A white noise device can also help if you cannot sleep because of household noise.
- Wear a soft sleep mask and earplugs if light and noise disturb your sleep.
Living with depression, anxiety, and insomnia can be extremely difficult. All these conditions not only affect the way you feel and think but are often associated with other chronic health problems, such as heart disease.
Remember, high-quality sleep is not a luxury but a necessity. In many cases, improving your sleep quality can help with depression and anxiety and vice versa. The first and most important step for recovery is to take the emerging symptoms of depression, anxiety, or sleep disorder seriously.
And then, with the right approach, there is hope for improved sleep, enhanced mental health, and a brighter future. By leveraging the principles of ACT, for example, you can foster psychological flexibility and overcome the vicious cycle of disrupted sleep, depression, and anxiety.
Remember, there is a lot you can do yourself, but don’t hesitate to ask for help!
- Discover the Easiest Self-Healing Technique for Insomnia
- How to Self-Heal Anxiety and Depression
- How Insomnia Develops And Why You Get Stuck
- How Does Sleep Affect Your Mental Health?
- Understanding Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – Getting Rid Of Insomnia Without Drugs