4 MIN READ | Health Psychology

How Can Sleepless Nights Result in Depression

Helen Bradfield

Cite This
Helen Bradfield, (2019, September 28). How Can Sleepless Nights Result in Depression. Psychreg on Health Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/sleepless-nights-can-lead-to-depression/
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Jasmine just moved to the city to work as a call centre agent. She had no choice but to leave her family and friends in search of greener pastures. Just as Jasmine started her night shift duty, she also began developing homesickness. She could not bear living in a new environment away from her loved ones.

A few months passed, and her workmates noticed that Jasmine has been feeling lonely and sad. One of them suggested she visit a psychotherapy clinic. Heeding the call, she consulted a therapist, and to her surprise, she was already living in depression.

The therapist then explained that while her homesickness could be the root, it was her lack of sleep and nights without sleep that exacerbated the problem.

Cases like that of Jasmine shows how lack of sleep or sleepless nights can lead to depression. It’s a complex interrelationship. But experts reveal that each can be either a result or a cause.

Sleep deprivation and depression

A lot of studies have shown that sleep and health are closely related. Lack of sleep adversely impacts your psychological state and mental health. That means, the more you spend sleepless nights, the more you become prone to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Sleepless nights could lead or worsen psychological and mental issues such as depression.

In the US, common sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice. For the general US population, though, around 10% to 18% are affected.

Traditionally, medical professionals viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as consequences or symptoms. However, recent studies have shown that sleep problems increase the risk or directly contribute to the development of psychiatric issues. These studies can also apply clinically because treating a sleep problem may help address symptoms of a co-occurring mental health problem.

Until today, however, the scientific relationship between sleep and mental health is not yet fully understood. However, studies on neuroimaging and neurochemistry reveal that quality sleep helps promote mental and emotional resilience. On the other hand, sleepless nights lead to negative thinking and emotional instability.

Sleep and mental health

With those fundamentals, let’s now consider other key relations of sleep and mental health.

Studies show that every 90 minutes, a regular sleeper falls between two major categories of sleep. The length of time spent in one or the other, however, modifies as sleep deepens.

During ‘quiet’ sleep, a person goes through four stages of increasingly deep sleep. As the muscles relax and the body temperature drops, the heart rate and breathing also slows down. The deepest level of quiet sleep generates physiological changes that aid the functioning of the immune system.

The second sleep category is called the rapid eye movement (REM). This is the period when people dream. In relation, a person’s body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase to levels when people are wide awake. Research shows that REM sleep boosts learning, and memory. It also contributes to emotional health in sophisticated manners.

Although researchers are still trying to set clear distinctions between the mechanisms, they’ve revealed that sleep deprivation affects the level of neurotransmitters and stress hormones. That could lead to brain damage, impaired thinking, and emotional regulation. In this way, sleep disorders can amplify depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Key points

  • Sleep problems can be a factor leading to the development of depression.
  • Those with psychiatric issues are more vulnerable to sleepless nights and depression compared to the general population.
  • Addressing sleep problems can help prevent the emergence of depression.

How sleepless deprivation leads to depression

Therapists reveal that there are more than 70 types of sleep disorders. Among these are insomnia (difficulty catching and sustaining sleep); obstructive sleep apnoea (irregular breathing that leads to multiple awakenings); various movement syndromes (unfavourable sensations that cause night fidgeting); and narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness or suddenly falling asleep during the day).

Based on psychiatric diagnosis, the types of sleep disorders, prevalence, and impact vary from one person to another. There is, however, a considerable overlap between sleep disorders and different psychiatric problems. As a result, scientists have long surmised that both types of problems may have common biological roots. In the same manner, sleepless nights corroborate with depression.

One study utilized different methods and populations to confirm such a correlation. It showed that 65% to 90% of adult patients with major depression, and about 90% of children with this disorder, suffer from any of the sleep disorders. Additionally, most clients with depression have insomnia, and 1 in 5 of them have obstructive sleep apnoea.

Clinical experts see depression as a causal factor of sleepless nights or insomnia and other sleep disorders. But again, several studies reveal that insomnia and sleep issues increase the risk of developing depression.  

For example, a Michigan health maintenance organisation conducted a longitudinal study among 1,000 adults who are aged 21 to 30 in 1989. Based on the results, those who shared a history of insomnia during the interview were four times more likely to develop major depression compared to normal sleepers. The full development would happen three years later.

In the same year, two longitudinal studies were conducted among young people. The first study involved 300 pairs of young twins, while the other study included 1,014 teenagers. Both pieces of research revealed that sleep problems developed before major depression did.

Unfortunately, the role of sleep deprivation to depression continues even during full development.

Essentially, insomnia and other sleep issues impact outcomes for patients struggling with depression. Research shows that depressed patients who continue to suffer from insomnia are less responsive to treatment than those without sleep problems. That indicates that lack of sleep does not only aggravate depression but hinders the effects of interventions.

Even patients whose mood got well with antidepressant therapy are more susceptible to a relapse of depression. Studies have also shown that depressed patients experiencing insomnia or other sleep disturbances are more likely to contemplate suicide and die by suicide than depressed patients who are able to sleep normally.

Now, if you notice that you have sleepless nights lately, better watch out. That may lead you to depression. For assurance, better consult a clinical expert to help you diagnose and cope with your situation. You might as well use a top-rated weighted blanket to sustain a normal sleep.


Helen Bradfield did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh.  She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.


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