Many studies show that there is a connection between sleep and mental health. People with mental health problems often have a higher chance of experiencing sleeping disorders (such as insomnia). However, sleep disorders (such as insomnia) can also serve as a cause/trigger. In this article, not only will we go more in-depth on the topic of insomnia, but we will also explain insomnia’s connection with depression.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that makes falling or staying asleep difficult. One may wake up several times throughout the night or wake up too early and not be able to go back to sleep. Overall, insomnia prevents individuals from getting a good night’s rest. These sleep disturbances can then affect your energy levels and overall health, work performance, and quality of life.
According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Deep Research Society, the recommended hours of sleep per age group are:
- Infants (4-12 months): 12-16 hours per 24 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours per 24 hours
- Pre-school (3-5 years): 10-13 hours per 24 hours
- School Age (6-12 years): 9-12 hours per 24 hours
- Teen (13-18 years): 8-10 hours per 24 hours
- Adult (18-60 years): 7-8 hours per night
What Causes Insomnia?
The cause of insomnia can vary from individual to individual. Factors such as environmental, psychological, and physiological play a role in the development of sleeping disorders. Some common factors to take into consideration may include:
- Stress from things in your life, such as your job, relationships, school, financial difficulties, etc.
- Your environment or occupation: For example, you may have an inconsistent sleep schedule if you work the night shift or travel to different time zones.
- Age: Insomnia can develop at any age- but your chances increase as you get older.
- You take long naps during the day.
- You don’t get enough physical exercise throughout the day.
- If you have a family history of issues with insomnia or other sleeping disorders that run in your family
- Sex: Insomnia is more common to develop in women than in men.
- Unhealthy lifestyle and sleeping habits
- Chronic diseases (such as cancer)
- Chronic pain due to conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or others
- Hormone fluctuations due to mensuration, menopause, thyroid disease, pregnancy, or other conditions
- Medications or other substances (such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or recreational drugs)
- Watching TV or using devices close to your face before you go to sleep
- Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia
- Other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome
- Experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression
What Are the 3 Common Types of Insomnia?
The three main types of insomnia are:
- Transient Insomnia:
- Lasts for less than one week
- Generally caused by another disorder, changes in the sleep environment, stress, or depression.
- Acute Insomnia (also known as adjustment or short-term insomnia):
- Can last between one to six months
- Occurs due to acute situational stress- such as facing a new job, deadline, or exams.
- Insomnia usually resolves when the stressor passes/is no longer present- or the person adapts to the stressor.
- Chronic Insomnia:
- Lasts for more than six months
- Insomnia is usually classified as chronic when you have trouble sleeping for at least three days per week for at least three months.
- Generally is associated with chronic medical and psychiatric conditions.
- Usually occurs in individuals with an underlying risk of insomnia.
Other classifications of insomnia include:
- Primary insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs without being caused by another co-existing disease(s).
- Co-morbid insomnia: This type of insomnia exists alongside other medical or psychiatric conditions. Usually, co-morbid insomnia can make the medical or mental illness condition worse- or it can hinder treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Insomnia?
While each person may experience different difficulties when it comes to insomnia, the most common signs are:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up constantly in the middle of the night
- Waking up too early and not being able to go back to sleep
- Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
- Feeling tired/fatigued throughout the day
- Feeling irritable, anxious, or having a depressed mood
- Increase in committing errors or accidents throughout the day
- Issues with concentration or memory
How Can I Relax with Insomnia?
Besides taking action to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can also take the initiative to develop and incorporate some healthy sleeping habits into your bedtime routine. You could try and:
- Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Turn your room into a quiet and dark place, a place of relaxation.
- Try to avoid looking at screens from your devices before going to bed. The blue light from these devices can disrupt your sleep cycle.
- Try to go to sleep around the same time each night.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to your bedtime.
- Get regular physical activity during the daytime. Exercise is a green way to boost the flow of feel-good chemicals within your brain. Many studies have also shown that regular exercise can decrease symptoms of depression. It can also help you release energy and feel more tired by bedtime. Make sure to exercise at least 5-6 hours before going to bed to avoid any trouble with falling asleep.
- Avoid napping during the day (especially late afternoon).
- Eat your meals on a regular schedule and try to avoid late-night meals (which can reduce the number of times you may wake up to use the restroom).
- Limit how much liquids you drink before bedtime (to avoid getting up at night to use the restroom).
- Learn different ways to manage your stress. Develop a self-care routine to wind down as you get ready for bed.
- Avoid certain over-the-counter and prescription medicines that may lead to disruption of sleep. Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have if/when starting a new medication.
Is insomnia a Mental Illness?
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder, not a mental illness. Insomnia itself is rarely an isolated issue. Instead, it is usually an indicator of a medical or mental illness. According to the MSD Manual, many major mental health disorders are usually accompanied by insomnia. About 80% of people with major depression experience insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. Meanwhile, about 40% of people with chronic insomnia usually have a mental disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder.
How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Mental Health?
Insomnia can also lead to the worsening of other mental health disorders. For example, when we are stressed about something, we tend to stay awake at night with racing thoughts. Poor sleep can also make it overwhelming to deal with stress. Minor sources of stress may seem more significant, especially if lack of sleep has left us in a short-tempered or irritable mood. Poor sleep can even become a source of stress itself. Therefore, one enters into this constant cycle of stress and poor sleep.
Anxiety is another condition where insomnia can lead to a worsening of symptoms. People with anxiety tend to experience more frequent sleep disturbances- especially when thoughts of worry and fear keep them up at night. However, symptoms of sleep deprivation can also lead to the worsening of anxiety. It, in turn, leads to a never-ending cycle of anxiety and lack of sleep.
Studies have shown that sleep problems are also risk factors for anxiety disorders. The symptoms that accompany poor quality of sleep can lead to a worsening of symptoms in specific mental conditions (such as PTSD, Bipolar disorder, or ADHD). Or these conditions themselves can also worsen insomnia.
Can Insomnia Be Caused by Depression?
Yes, many studies show that insomnia and depression correlate with one another. A John Hopkins Medicine article states that people with insomnia have a tenfold higher risk of developing depression versus those who get a good night’s rest. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that around 75% of those diagnosed with depression have trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleep issues caused by insomnia can also disrupt the amount of serotonin that cycles to the brain- which can contribute to the development of depression.
How Long Does Depression Insomnia Last?
How long insomnia lasts within each individual (as a result of depression) may vary from person to person. There is no clear way of knowing how long one’s depressive episode may last. Depression often leads to low energy levels during the day- which can also lead to a decrease in activity. As a result, one may feel less sleepy at night because they have not exhausted any energy during the daytime.
Depression can also mess with one’s sleep cycle by causing some individuals to stay longer in bed or take multiple naps throughout the day. These disruptions often throw off our sleep schedule, and people have a harder time going or staying asleep during the night.
Or depression can also lead to people having a constant stream of thoughts throughout the night- making it hard for them to fall asleep. Thus, people get stuck in a cycle where depression can worsen one’s insomnia. This worsening of insomnia then leads to the intensification of symptoms of depression. It is difficult to tell when this cycle may solve on its own. We recommend seeking medical and professional help to develop ways/treatments to break these cycles.
How Do I Deal with Depression and Insomnia?
One of the first steps we recommend you take if you suspect you have insomnia and depression is to seek medical help from your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that treatment for one condition does not mean that it will automatically solve issues present in the other condition. By working with a healthcare provider (or with a team), you can ensure that you are receiving a treatment that works on testing both conditions. A combination of psychotherapy and specific medications can help set you on the path of improving your overall quality of life.
Also, we encourage you to keep track of your sleep to share this information with your doctor. Using a sleep diary, such as the one in our Febo app, can help you keep track of your sleep cycle. Having a diary can also help you see how well you sleep. You could also use Febo’s symptoms log to track how your feel after a difficult night.
Overall, we highly encourage anyone to take action on their sleep and mental health. Do not be discouraged if you may be facing more than one condition at the same time. With the correct guidance, you can start on your path of reclaiming your health and your life.