Prevent Depression while You Sleep

Insomnia not only leaves you sleepy, it can sometimes lead to depression, according to a new study.

February 24, 2010

Safeguard your shutyeye: Lack of sleep sets you up for depression.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Researchers have known for years that depression can cause insomnia, trouble falling or staying asleep. But brand-new research on the connection between sleep and depression finds that the opposite is true as well: Chronic insomnia may increase your risk of becoming clinically depressed.


THE DETAILS: In a study of sleep and depression published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, identified 555 people who suffered from chronic insomnia. Four years later, the researchers found that this group was up to five times more likely to be depressed than those without insomnia. It should be noted that no one in the group of insomniacs suffered from depression at the beginning of the study period, suggesting that it was indeed the insomnia that led to the depression, rather than the other way around.

WHAT IT MEANS: A third of Americans report occasional bouts of insomnia, while 10 to 15 percent suffer from a chronic form of the condition. The consequences are not limited to daytime drowsiness. Insomnia can affect your physical health, work performance, and quality of life. And as this study makes clear, the condition can increase your risk of depression. The good news is that the data points to an interesting new strategy for preventing depression and helping people who are depressed. “Our results suggest that recognition and treatment of insomnia by healthcare providers may be critical for preventing or mitigating the occurrence of depression,” write the study authors.

Read on for advice to help you get better sleep.

This study doesn't prove that insomnia directly causes depression; it may be an early marker, or the two conditions may be linked in some other way. But, along with the other effects of sleep loss, it's a good reason to take insomnia seriously. If you have chronic insomnia, meaning at least three nights a week for a month or longer, ask your doctor about behavioral therapies and/or medications that might work. And here some strategies you can try:

• Practice good sleep hygiene. While medication can help you sleep in the short term, many people can get lasting relief from insomnia by practicing good sleep hygiene—behaviors and habits that cue your body that it's time to shut down for the night. See our story on getting more sleep with skills, not pills.

• Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends. It may be tempting to sleep in on a Saturday, but a recent study found that doing so sets you up for a cumulative sleep deficit.

• Make the sun work for you. Sunlight can have a powerful effect on our sleep schedules, and not only when it's peeking through the blinds in the morning. Some people are particularly sensitive to changes in day length, or to the dip in sun exposure that most of us experience in wintertime. See our story on the healthy effects of bright light.

Also, try a natural insomnia remedy from the remedy finder

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