Depression expresses itself in numerous, horrendous ways. The constant feelings of fatigue coupled with the seeming inability to escape your depressive mindset, regularly leads to an overwhelming sense of alienation from family and friends.
Then of course, there’s sleep. At least for me, whenever depression and anxiety have made themselves known, whether as a teenager at school, student at university, or even now, its effect upon my quality of sleep has been obvious. And yet, whilst in the depths of depression, sleep is probably my last concern.
In the past, I often found myself doing those things that I now know were only detrimental to my quality of sleep, whether it was turning to alcohol to help me sleep, or viewing the blue-light glow of my phone or laptop to keep me from ruminating.
Of course, when in the midst of something like depression, it’s difficult to concern yourself with the ‘quality’ of your sleep. After all, you’re not necessarily asking to experience the deepest, greatest sleep of your life. Instead, all you’re asking for is the opportunity to escape the dark, cold, grey world you have come to inhabit.
Uncertain how you can possibly make it through the rest of your life, you’re merely attempting to make it through just one day at a time. Asking someone to look beyond one week, even just one day, to see the derogatory impact that their current sleeping pattern could have on their health, is simply too much to ask of someone enduring a depressive episode.
A Symptom, And A Cause
This is of course, not the case for everybody, and to propose that everyone’s experience of depression and anxiety is precisely the same would be erroneous to say the least.
Nonetheless, depression’s close relationship with sleep is a well-documented one.
We know for example, that there exists a cyclical relationship between sleep and depression. Sleep deprivation caused by depression for example, has been proven to make recovering from depression, even harder.
The reason? Sleep deprived people tend to be more emotionally volatile, often expressed in the form of intense anger or sadness, making it more difficult to regulate emotional volatility. Moreover, due to the importance of sleep in providing energy and restoring mood, “abnormal sleep patterns” will inevitably reduce one’s ability to exercise, interact with friends and even go to work.
Just as depression can lead to comorbid insomnia – difficulty sleeping that occurs together with another medical condition – sleep deprivation has also been proven to enhance one’s chances of entering a depressive episode. Teens who don’t get enough sleep for instance, are at a significantly greater risk of depression and suicide.
In this sense, it’s much more than a matter of correlation between sleeplessness and depression, but rather, one of cause-and-effect that works in a vicious circle, set in motion once sleep-related issues and depression are able to work in tandem with one another.
Indeed, the fact that their relationship is one of ’cause-and-effect’ can make the challenge they pose to us appear all the more greater. Each and every one of us experience sleeplessness at some point in our lives. But to then worry consequentially for the increased likelihood of a depressive episode, seems to expose us to a rather unfortunate anxiety.
So, What Should We Do?
At myza, we recently reviewed Henry Nicholls’ new book “Sleepyhead: Narcolepsy, Neuroscience and the Search for a Good Night”, which discusses the detrimental impact of sleep disorders amongst members of the public. But perhaps more importantly, he also describes throughout the book the many misconceptions that continue to plague society in regards to our knowledge of sleep, and our apparent disregard for sleep hygiene.
During his research, Henry explored the level of screen-time teenagers experienced on a daily basis. In the UK for example, older children typically consume over six hours of screen-based media every day, whilst in the US and Canada, teenagers will consume as much as 8 hours of screen time. This included television screens, laptop screens and now, smartphone screens, so may not be enormously surprising.
But then, considering the wealth of evidence describing the detrimental impact that any consumption of blue-light emitting devices can have on our sleep (especially when consumed near bedtime), it should worry us that today, teenagers are probably more sleep deprived now than ever before.
If we combine this information with our growing understanding of mental health amongst all sections of the population, we can see the need for an urgent conversation.
A conversation that finally views high-quality sleep as essential, and not merely complementary, to our mental well-being.
For more advice and information on mental health, depression and beyond, click here to visit Mind’s (formerly the National Association for Mental Health) website. And, for advice and tips on how to create your very own Sleep Utopia, click here.