Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Thursday, 18 June 2015

Ask An Adult: Is My Depression Caused By Insomnia?

Ask An Adult: Is My Depression Caused By Insomnia?

The Debrief: There's getting out of the wrong side of bed in the morning and then there's feeling like crap all the time...and never sleeping. We asked an adult just how closely insomnia and depression are linked...

There’s getting up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning and there’s that interminable feeling of nothing’s-quite-right-in-the-world-let’s-hide-under-the-duvet-until-lunch-please. In fact, unwillingness to get out of the bed and face the day is a big indicator that someone’s depressed. While we all know that waking up late generally pushes your body clock into going to bed later, then waking later, then sleeping later, making it impossible to return to a ‘normal’ sleeping time of what, 11pm? It’s unclear what comes first – depression, or insomnia.

So we asked an adult, that adult being consultant clinical psychologist Laura Galbraith:

What comes first? Insomnia or depression?

Insomnia is a key symptom of depression. Sometimes people get depressed without getting insomnia, but there’s certainly a strong association in terms of people finding it difficult either to get off to sleep or wake early. The quality and length of sleep is affected by mood.

How important is sleep to our mental wellbeing?

There seems to be two sides to sleep – being physically tired enough to sleep, and being wound down in your head enough to sleep. Some evidence shows that we only need a couple of hours’ sleep for our physical recovery each day, but the rest of the sleep is about our psychological and mental recovery, laying down memories, organising the day. You know how people say ‘sleep on it?’ there is something in that – the sleep actually allows you to sort it out.

How do we compare to other animals?

We’ve got very small brains that need lots of sleep, whereas dolphins have massive brains but don’t sleep.

Interesting! In the same way some people will flippantly say ‘Oh I’m sooo depressed’ over one bad day, will they say insomnia is just a one-off when really it’s a long-term condition? Like, can anyone easily get insomnia?

Well, you need to look at the history of that individual about either of them. These days, we all want to be 24 hours, the way we live doesn’t seem to prioritise sleep that much. But sleep can be a key element to psychological wellbeing - some post mortem evidence shows that people who are sleepless seem to have certain parts of the brain that are less active than others.

In the same way someone with depression can affect those around them, can you get insomnia from people around you?

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were patterns in terms of families and people you live with, but I don’t know of any research pointing to that.

And is someone with insomnia always going to be depressed?

There are all sorts of reasons why people become low in mood: bad life events, a loss they find difficult, overwork, not having enough recovery time…a sense of not being effective in the world can be quite important. Insomnia isn’t an actual cause of depression, but there’s a strong association with sleeplessness and low mood.

As a little help, Laura gave us some tips on how to knock the combination of depression and insomnia on the head...

How to avoid insomnia and the depression it’s linked with:

  1. Sleep when it’s dark and be awake when it’s light
  2. Sleep and wake at regular times
  3. Avoid using electric items with blue lights. Blue light mimics proper light and makes you think that you ought to be awake, when in fact it’s time for sleep. That’s a shock to your sleep pattern
  4. Remember that sleep is a skill and it’s sometimes a matter of re-learning that skill at times
  5. Improve your lifestyle by prioritising yourself as an entity, looking out for yourself, getting fit, be as kind to yourself as you would be to your friends, don’t put yourself down.
  6. Get help - cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is designed for people with depression, so could help.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

How To Cope When You're Dealing With Depression At Work

How These Celebrities Deal With Their Anxieties

Sleeping In A Messy Room Could Make You More Tired The Next Day

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Picture: Eugenia Loli 

Tags: Ask An Adult, Sleep (or lack of), Mental health