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The quality of your sleep is closely related to how you think, how you act, and how you feel. It is obvious that you will be more alert and well rested when you get the sleep that you need. But sleep does much more than this. It also helps you think more clearly, have more energy, and feel better about life.
When you don't sleep well, all of the benefits of sleep begin to come up missing in your life. More than just feeling tired, you can become frustrated, unmotivated, and even have severe mood swings. The link between your mood and your sleep will greatly affect the overall quality of your life.
I. What is Depression?
Depression is a very common mood disorder. It disrupts a person's emotions, thoughts, and body. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 19 million people in the U.S. suffer from depression each year. While much about this illness is known, the cause of it is not entirely clear. There does seem to be a link to the balance of certain chemicals in your brain.
Other factors that cause depression include the following:
Hard times, painful events, and life changes can all cause depression. This includes the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or the birth of a baby.
You are more likely to suffer from depression if a relative has also had to deal with it.
A severe injury or illness can lead to depression. This is more likely to be the case if the medical condition is ongoing or permanent. Some medications can also make you more likely to be depressed.
The way you look at life can be a factor in causing depression. Some people are naturally more moody, isolated and negative.
The way in which depression affects you is very complex. It can take a hold of your life in three main areas:
- How your body functions.
- How you feel about yourself.
- How you respond to events in your life.
Having trouble sleeping is just one of the many signs of depression. Other signs include:
- Down or low moods
- Feeling sad most of the day, nearly every day
- No longer finding pleasure in things that had been enjoyable before
- Major weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of energy
- Having a hard time concentrating or making decisions
- Bursts of anger, irritability, or nervousness
- Wanting to avoid spending time with other people
- Having crying spells that seem to occur for no reason
- Some people with depression have only a few of these signs. In its most severe form, depression can cause a person to think that life is no longer worth living. It can even lead someone to take his own life.
Depression can affect both men and women in any age group.
Women are about twice as likely as men to have severe depression. Teen girls also suffer from it at a much higher rate than boys. This is most likely due to changes in hormones that women face at various life stages. These stages include:
Men are less likely to seek help for their depression. Violent behaviors and drug or alcohol abuse can develop as a result. Men are four times as likely as women to kill themselves.
Depression can also affect men and women as they reach the latter years of their lives. Factors that can lead to depression in the elderly include:
- Painful medical conditions
- Use of medications
- Limited mobility
- Isolation from loved ones
This does not mean that depression should be seen as being normal when you get older. It is an illness that often goes ignored and untreated. Detecting and treating it can help the elderly enjoy and find meaning in their final years.
II. If I Don't Sleep Well, Does That Mean I'm Depressed?
There are many things that can keep a person from sleeping well. Depression is only one of these causes. Young people under the age of 30 or 40 often have a hard time falling asleep when they are depressed. It affects older people in a different way. People over 40 are more likely to wake up during the night when they are depressed.
Many times, depression is not the cause of sleepless nights. Instead, feelings of depression can be the result of having a problem with your sleep. People often have a hard time sleeping at night due to a sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders. It causes you to stop breathing many times as you sleep. These pauses in breathing wake you up through the night. This makes you very sleepy the next day.
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) also disrupts your sleep. It makes your leg muscles tighten or flex in a way that you are unable to control. This can also wake you up through the night. These are just two examples of the many sleep disorders that can keep you from getting a good night's sleep.
You should talk to your doctor if you struggle with feelings of depression for more than two weeks. If it appears that a sleep disorder is the source of your problem, then a visit with a sleep specialist will also be helpful.
III. What Happens When I Am Referred to a Sleep Specialist? It is a good idea to fill out a daily sleep diary for two weeks before you visit a sleep specialist. This will serve as an aid to help the doctor see your pattern of sleep. It may also provide clues as to what is causing your sleep problem.
The specialist will also complete an interview with you. This will cover both your sleep habits and your medical history. You can look over the Evaluation Tools on this site for examples of the kinds of questions you may have to answer. The information you provide during this visit will help the specialist detect any sleep or depression problems you may have.
The specialist may determine that your troubles are the result of a sleep disorder. Further evaluation at a sleep center would then pinpoint the cause of the problem. If depression seems to be the source of your sleep problems, then testing in the sleep center may still be helpful.
People with depression tend to show abnormal deep sleep and dream sleep patterns. This would clearly show up during work done at a sleep center. These results would help insure that you are prescribed what you need to solve your problem. The sleep center can then begin your treatment and also refer you to other doctors as needed.
IV. If Depression Is Causing My Sleep Problems, What Can I Do?
If your sleep problems are related to depression, the first key to improving your sleep is to treat the depression. Second, you will want to practice good sleep habits. This is known as sleep hygiene.
The good news is that treatments for depression have a good rate of success. The two main forms of treatment are the following:
There are many forms of this kind of therapy. "Talk therapies" help people sort out and better understand their feelings and problems by talking through them with an expert. "Behavioral therapy" helps you learn to change actions and ways of life that cause you to be depressed.
There are many types of antidepressant drugs that can be of use to you. A doctor will be able to decide which drugs, if any, will work best in your case.
Some people may recover from mild forms of depression with only the use of psychotherapy. For many others, it will take both therapy and medications to achieve success. Your primary doctor or sleep specialist may be able to lead you through the treatment process. He may also refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist to give you more specialized care.
Good Sleep Hygiene
You can often sleep better by simply following the practices of good sleep hygiene. This might help even if your sleep problems are due to depression. Sleep hygiene consists of basic habits and tips that help you develop a pattern of healthy sleep. See the Resources section of this site to find out how you can start down the path to better sleep.