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How depression affects our sleep

Depression not only affects our ability to sleep, it also changes the way we sleep which can have a knock-on effect on our mental and physical health, negatively impacting the way the body heals and repairs itself.

If you’re feeling low or depressed and have been sleeping badly for more than four weeks then now is the time to tackle the problem.

Sleep disturbance is a symptom of depression

Around three-quarters of people with depression will struggle with their sleep. The most common problem is insomnia. People with insomnia tend to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or they wake up too early.

Those suffering from depression take longer to fall asleep and are more likely to wake in the night, with more frequent, and longer gaps in the night compared to non-depressed people. Women with depression are also more likely to suffer sleep problems than men.

Another sleep problem experienced alongside depression, particularly for young adults, is hypersomnia. Around 40% of young adults with depression suffer from this. They sleep too much and have trouble staying awake.

Losing only one hour of sleep a night is associated with 60-80% increased likelihood of experiencing symptoms like depression, hopelessness, nervousness, and feeling restless or fidgety.

For a long time, experts believed that if you solved the primary problem such as depression, the secondary problems such as insomnia would subside. However, research has shown that if you don’t treat the sleep it becomes harder to treat the depression and the person is more likely to relapse - their depression is more likely to come back.

That’s why it’s important to consider the role of sleep in disorders such as depression.

Depression doesn’t just stop us sleeping due to worry or stress, it actually changes the way we sleep.

Sleep is commonly misunderstood. In fact, exactly how and why we sleep is still somewhat of a mystery - even to sleep scientists. However, recent research in the field of sleep has revealed a lot.

‘Sleep’ is not a constant state. We sleep in 70 — 120 minute cycles and need to be asleep for around 90 minutes before we enter deep sleep. So, if we wake frequently throughout the night we miss out on vital deep sleep.

Within each sleep cycle we experience two distinct types of sleep. First NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep) then REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

REM sleep got its name from an observation made by researcher Eugene Aserinsky who noticed that his son’s eyes were moving rapidly when he was asleep.

Our most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep. Although we don’t know exactly why we dream, we know that during REM we process emotions and experiences and the importance of REM for both emotional and mental health has been demonstrated across many studies.

Brain patterns observed during REM are identical to those observed when we’re awake and, because of this, REM sleep is sometimes referred to as paradoxical sleep.

The first phase of REM sleep is normally short, around ten minutes and each REM phase gets longer as the sleep goes on.

We rarely dream in NREM. NREM is particularly important for memory consolidation, and for physical healing and growth.

“The more severe the depression, the earlier the first REM begins. Sometimes it starts as early as 45 minutes into sleep. That means these sleepers’ first cycle of NREM sleep amounts to about half the usual length of time;” explains Rosalind D. Cartwright, in her book The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives.

“This early REM displaces the initial deep sleep, which is not fully recovered later in the night. This displacement of the first deep sleep is accompanied by an absence of the usual large outflow of growth hormone.”

The human growth hormone (HGH) which allows for our body and brain to heal and grow, gets released during our first deep sleep cycle. Depressed people get less of this type of sleep and therefore don’t get a large pulse of HGH. This means their bodies find it harder to repair themselves.

Rosalind D. Cartwright goes on to explain that: “The absence of the large spurt of HGH during the first deep sleep continues in many depressed patients even when they are no longer depressed (in remission).”

People suffering from depression tend to have a longer initial period of REM when compared to non-depressed people, and the number of eye movements (known as REM density) is greater.

There is a theory that this increase in REM sleep is due to higher emotional activity.

Therefore, depression not only affects our ability to sleep, but changes the way we sleep which can have a knock-on effect not only on mood, but on also the way the body heals and repairs itself.

The good news is that treating a sleep problem can actually reduce symptoms of depression.

When we sleep better, we feel better. We all know this anecdotally, but we rarely acknowledge how powerful sleep really is.

Good sleep has been proven to help us live longer. It also: makes us happier, reduces anxiety, makes us more attractive, reduces food cravings, protects us from cancer, makes us feel calmer, protects against dementia, lowers stress levels, wards off colds and flu and lowers our risk of heart attacks

The list goes on. When we think about all the benefits that good sleep brings it seems obvious that we should be prioritising it.

If you’re feeling low or depressed and have been sleeping badly for more than four weeks then now is the time to tackle the problem.

In the vast majority of cases, the sleep problem is fairly easy to treat. Sleepstation helps you understand why you can’t sleep and gives you the support to overcome your sleep problem.

It’s not always easy to make the changes required to tackle long-term sleep problems; that’s why we offer a fully supported sleep improvement programme at Sleepstation. We know from experience that it’s easier to make changes when you’ve got someone to support you through it.

If nothing changes, nothing will change. So if you’re determined to overcome your depression or get your sleep back on track, register for Sleepstation today. We’re here to help.

Sleepstation is clinically proven to be effective. Most people who follow the Sleepstation programme get better within a few weeks. We’d love to help you too.

Complete a short questionnaire to find out how we can help.

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