Insomnia and Depression: A Vicious Circle

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Serotune | 0 comments

You roll over and look at the clock.  It’s 3AM.  You roll over, punch your fist into your pillow, and cram it under your head.  You lock your eyes shut tight and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.  No matter what you do, sleep just doesn’t come.  You roll over again and look at the clock.  It is 3:05.  

It’s going to be a long night.

If you have trouble with your mood, such as with depression, you may find that your sleep schedule is not exactly under your control.  Researchers have found good reasons for that, though.  Your sleep cycle actually affects the mood regulating neurochemicals in your brain.  It has also been shown that the less sleep you get, the more depressed you feel.  Understanding sleep’s relationship to depression is important to finally getting a handle on your condition. 

Defining Depression in Sleep Terms

As most depressed people know, you either get too much or too little sleep when you are coping with an episode.  According to Psychology Today, nearly 80 percent of people experience insomnia when they are depressed compared to only 15 percent who oversleep.  This is important because it identifies a causal link between the two.  In fact, a study published in the Journal of Rural Health found that people who slept for less than seven hours per night had more self-reported depressive symptoms.  Clearly, your sleep can help you or harm you when you are dealing with depression.  Perhaps healing the sleep disturbance would have an effect on treating the depression. 

Insomnia’s Effect on Mood

It turns out that sleep has quite a few effects on depression.  First, when a depressed person falls asleep, they rush immediately into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  Your sleep cycle is much like a Broadway play: it has regimented stages that it moves through, and every stage is important.  When you jump over the so called “slow wave” sleep that occurs when you first fall asleep, you actually bypass time your brain needs for recovery.  REM sleep also tends to be more emotional and lend itself to an excess of emotional feelings even while awake. 

Conversely, it was found that insomnia actually increases the levels of serotonin in the brain.  This is the key neurochemical in the brain that helps you to control your mood.  When participants were subjected to sleep deprivation, they found that their mood actually improved.  However, the results were typically short lived and led the participants to feeling depressed when they finally did get the sleep they needed.

The Sleep/ Mood Dance

In fact, even though mood improves when you first experience sleep deprivation, you eventually start to feel fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and a withdrawal from pleasant things.  In essence, the longer you deprive yourself of sleep, the more your mood deteriorates.  Another point to consider in this dance is the effect on perceived level of sleep.  When you toss and turn all night, you may underestimate the amount of time that you actually do get sleep.  If you are depressed, your sleep cycle is disturbed, and this can cause you to not “feel” the effects of the sleep that you are getting.

 Anxiety and a lack of control can also figure into the vicious cycle of depression and sleep.  If you have trouble sleeping, you start to worry about whether you can sleep in time for work or school.  This anxiety actually keeps you awake and makes the insomnia worse.  You worry that you can’t sleep, so you don’t sleep, and you feel more depressed because you haven’t gotten any sleep.  It is also quite normal to feel a lack of control when you are experiencing insomnia, and this can make you feel hopeless.  If you can’t even control something as basic as your rest time, it makes you feel like you can’t control anything in your life.

Treat Your Sleep, Treat Your Depression

It would seem that focusing on improving your sleep should help improve your mood.  Some researchers consider depression a side effect of lack of sleep, so making changes to your sleep style may actually help your mood.  Medications are generally not that helpful in curing insomnia, and they can be habit forming after long term use.  You should focus on improving your sleep hygiene to improve your overall quality of sleep.

That means having a set sleep time every day – even weekends.  Wake up at the same time and go to sleep at the same time every day.  You should aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but resist the urge to nap during the day.  It will only cut into your nighttime sleeping hours.  Make the room you sleep in as helpful as possible.  Hang dark curtains on the windows and minimize any sounds and distractions that you can. 

Your bed should only be used for sleeping or sex, and this practice signals to your brain that when you lay in bed, you are meant to sleep.  Finally, avoid alcohol before you sleep.  Although it does make you tired, it also disturbs the regimented cycles of your sleep.  This can lead to insomnia later in the night and a general lack of good quality sleep.  Follow these steps, and you may find yourself sleeping more and feeling happier than before.

We are the creators of Serotune an all natural serotonin supplement.


Journal of Rural Health; The Association of Sleep Duration and Depressive Symptoms in Rural Communities of Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas; JJ Chang, et. al.; June 2012

Sleep Medicine; Depression and insomnia: questions of cause and effect; Lisa Lustberg and Charles F. Reynolds; June 2000

Psychology Today; Bedfellows: Insomnia and Depression; Hara Estroff Marano; June 2011

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