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Sleep Deprivation and Depression: What You Should Know

By Kyle Kirkland
A lack of sleep can result in more than fatigue the next day. If you consistently don't get enough sleep, it could lead to depression. Here's what you need to know.

The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Sleep is a critical part of your overall health, and not getting enough of it can damage both your physical and mental health. Here’s what you need to know about sleep deprivation and depression.

Sleep Deprivation and Depression

“Sleep deprivation is connected to depression,” Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD and Psychiatrist, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“People suffering from depression and mood disorders would find it difficult to either fall asleep or maintain a good night's sleep. Contrary to this, someone not sleeping well throughout the night or not even getting enough rest in the morning will show signs of mood swings, irritability, sadness, or a dampened mood. So, in both ways, sleep deprivation is very much connected with depression,” Gonzalez-Berrios says.

There are different types of depression, such as:

  • Major depression, which causes you to feel depressed nearly every day of the week
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder, in which depressive symptoms are chronic and last for two years or longer
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder, which causes depression predominantly during the wintertime, when days are shorter and you get less sunlight and vitamin D

One potential reason that sleep deprivation leads to depression is the fact that the brain becomes less able to produce the chemical serotonin in the absence of proper sleep. Serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes your mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness, according to the Endocrine Society’s Hormone Health Network. 

“Sleep deprivation disrupts your circadian rhythms and increases the vulnerability to depression due to your brain producing less serotonin,” Gonzalez-Berrios explains.

Sleep apnea, a condition in which sleep is interrupted and you don’t get the quality sleep you need, has also been linked to depression

One challenge with sleep apnea is that it may not seem serious at first. Typical sleep apnea symptoms include daytime sleepiness and low energy. You may think of this as just getting a bad night’s sleep but not something to worry about. The disorder's potential connection to the presence of mental health issues like depression could therefore fly under the radar. 

Also, even if your depression was not caused by a lack of sleep, your depression can cause you to get less sleep—creating a vicious cycle in which each condition exacerbates the other.

“Depression causes frequent feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. These negative feelings are caused by constant thinking over negative experiences you may have. The negative spiral of thoughts and feelings causes a lack of sound sleep,” Gonzalez-Berrios says.

Think you may have a sleep disorder? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.