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How Depression and Sleep are Connected

By: Osayenmwen Omozusi

Sleep is crucial for the body to maintain function. If people are not getting enough sleep, this may be because of depression. Depression and sleep problems are closely linked; “Among people with depression, 75 percent have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep” (JHM, 2019).

What is Depression?

Depression is when the feeling of sadness or hopelessness does not go away. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) goes into detail about the disorder, “Depression—also called “clinical depression” or a “depressive disorder”—is a mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working” (NIMH, 2016).

Types of Depression

There are two common types of depression: major depression and persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). The former is when a person has the symptoms of depression for most hours almost every day, and it impacts the quality of life. The latter is when symptoms of depression last at least two years. Someone with dysthymia might experience episodes of major depression for a time and have a time with less critical symptoms (NIMH, 2016).

 How Depression and Insomnia are Related

Depression affects sleep because it disrupts the sleep cycle. There are two major phases: the deep sleep phase and the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. In the deep sleep phase, the body generates physiological changes that improve the function of the immune system. In the REM phase, the body improves emotional health, learning, and memory (HHP, 2009). When depression interferes, it can change the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, leading to problems such as wreaking havoc in the brain, impairing thinking, and reduces emotional regulation (HHP, 2009). 

Not only can depression affect sleep, but lack of sleep can also cause depression. Dr. Patrick Finan from John Hopkins Medicine says, “Either one can be the starting point” (JMH, 2019). A study showed how insomnia could increase the risk of depression:

A longitudinal study of about 1,000 adults ages 21 to 30 enrolled in a Michigan health maintenance organization found that, compared with normal sleepers, those who reported a history of insomnia during an interview in 1989 were four times as likely to develop major depression by the time of a second interview three years later. (HHP, 2009).

This shows that a lack of sleep can increase the chance of developing depression. In another study, “Healthy women and men whose sleep was interrupted throughout the night had a 31 percent reduction in positive moods the next day” (JMH, 2019).


The best thing a person can do is recognize the signs of depression and insomnia. There are treatments for depression like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. For insomnia, there is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) used along with depression treatments (JMH, 2019). It has been shown to improve the quality of sleep and increases the chance of depression remission.



References and Sources

Harvard Health Publishing. (2009, July). Sleep and mental health. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, March 18). Depression and Sleep: Understanding the Connection. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Depression Basics. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

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