Sleep problems linked to depression

Everyone feels a little down sometimes and temporary spans of sadness are common in times of failure or personal loss. Depression, however, is defined as an ongoing state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviours, feelings and physical well-being.  The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 4.8% of Canadians suffer from major depression.

The relationship between sleep and depression is complex and varies from person to person. Sleep problems are not only a symptom of depression but in some cases, they’re also the cause. In some patients, symptoms of depression appear before the onset of sleep problems, but others report sleep problems first. Two particular sleep disorders that are commonly linked with depression are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA.)

Insomnia is very prevalent among those with depression. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression compared with people who sleep well. Symptoms of insomnia related to depression include difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia), unrefreshing sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

OSA, a form of sleep-disordered breathing, is also strongly linked to depression. A Stanford study found that people who suffered from OSA were also five times more likely to suffer from depression. Since OSA and depression share several symptoms, OSA is often under-diagnosed amongst depressed patients. Fortunately, when OSA is discovered and treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), research shows that depressive symptoms are also often alleviated.

While the relationship between sleep disorders and depression is complex, both can be treated using  a combination of psychotherapy and/or medication treatments. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a non-drug treatment that is growing in popularity. It involves three key components: cognitive, behavioural and physiological techniques. Ultimately, if you suffer from depression or are concerned that your sleep disorder may lead to depression, speak to your physician about the many medical treatments and coping strategies available.