The surprising link between sleep and depression – are you getting enough?

A recent study has shown that people suffering from depression may also be suffering from sleep apnea, but the link between depression and sleep goes much deeper.

BABW News recently reported that a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has revealed a link between sleep apnea and depression, which could have huge implications for current mental health treatment paradigms. Even though it is extremely easy to treat sleep apnea by increasing airflow through the nasal passages during sleep, it may not be the only link between sleep and depression.

One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is a CPAP mask, which helps keep airways completely open and eliminates the flapping and catching that causes snoring. People with sleep apnea often find themselves getting a much better night’s sleep after they have taken steps to treat it, which often leads to a more positive outlook during the day.

Depression, unfortunately, isn’t so easy to treat all the time. Symptoms of depression experience crippling fatigue, an inability to connect with people or activities that once interested them, and a debilitating hopelessness that looms over all aspects of life.

Depression is a persistent condition, and often requires hefty medicines to recalibrate the brain and return to a more normal state. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the link between depression and sleep is actually quite complex. The cause of depression is still unknown, but how much sleep we get and how well we sleep has a lot to do with how we wake up feeling the next day.

The link between the two is so complex because people with depression often have trouble sleeping at night as it is. This, in turn, has a negative effect on their depression, making it all the more difficult to deal with. In some people, the symptoms of depression precede sleep issues, whereas some cases of depression can be linked to an acute lack of rest. The two share many of the same risk factors and biological features, and people often respond to the same treatments for both.

One of the biggest ways depression can affect sleep is making it impossible – insomnia plagues many depressed people and keeps them from getting the rest they need. Symptoms of insomnia include trouble staying asleep, light or unrefreshing sleep, and feeling tired during the day. Research suggests that people with sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia are at the highest risk for developing symptoms of depression.

One of the biggest complications caused by sleep disorders and depression is the difficulty in diagnosing either. A depressed mood can indicate insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy. Restless leg syndrome, or RLS, is also linked with symptoms of depression in some patients. Nearly 40 percent of people who suffer from RLS reported having symptoms of depression, which would likely be diagnosed as such if they weren’t already seeking treatment for a sleeping disorder.

Children and teens are especially at risk of sleep-related depression disorders like insomnia or hypersomnia (the desire to sleep excessively). Research suggests that children with depression who suffer from both insomnia and hypersomnia are likely to deal with more serious forms of depression later in life. They also experience weight loss, impaired movement, and the inability to perceive pleasure, or anhedonia. Among adolescents who reported symptoms of depression, 73 percent said that they weren’t getting enough sleep at night.

People all over the world can suffer from depression, but women and older adults are more likely to develop it later in life. Higher rates of sleep issues and depression among older adults may be partially explained by factors such as other types of physical illness. Women’s hormonal cycles are affected by menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, which can all affect sleep and depression symptoms. Insomnia is common in these demographics, and likely has something to do with depression.

For other people, mood and sleeping habits change with the seasons. A common example is seasonal affective disorder, also known as “winter depression.” It is a result of the changing patterns of light throughout the day, which dictate our circadian rhythms, or our internal clocks that tell us when it’s time to go to sleep. Shorter days cause circadian rhythms to fall out of sync and can trigger irregular sleep patterns and depression symptoms. In most cases, these symptoms are resolved in the spring.

Living with depression is difficult, and treating it isn’t much easier. Treatment for depression typically involves a mixture of psychotherapy and medicinal treatment. In many instances, doctors will attempt to resolve depression symptoms and sleep disorders in the same effort.

There are, however, complications. Patients who suffer from sleep apnea should stray from sedative antidepressants due to their tendency to induce shallow breathing, which could actually make OSA even worse.

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