Can Lack of Sleep Cause Depression?


With how increasingly busy life is nowadays, you may be enduring a sleepless night or two just to finish up work on time.

Even when our bodies are practically begging us to rest, this exhaustion is often brushed off or seen as a sign of weakness, and we continue to push ourselves past our limits in favor of efficiency – or finishing that last episode on Netflix.

does lack of sleep cause depression

However, you are not a machine, and contrary to what ‘all-nighter’ enthusiasts would have you believe, sleep is vital to your health.

In fact, sleep can combat against mental illness, heal and repair any small damages your body takes throughout the day, and help you to retain the information you learned from the previous day. In other words, you are not doing yourself any favors by becoming sleep deprived!

If you suffer from insomnia, there is a chance you may develop depression as well. But does lack of sleep cause depression? As it turns out, depression and insomnia actually go hand-in-hand.

Depression and Insomnia

One of the most common signs of depression is insomnia, and, in turn, insomnia can be caused by depression. This can transform into a vicious cycle that only worsens, leading to even more problems further down the line.

Depression is more than just feeling sad or ‘down’ all the time. It is a mental illness which affects a whopping 20 million Americans alone, and can result in a loss of interest in everything you used to love, a loss of energy, and may even lead to morbid, romanticized thoughts of death or suicide.

Insomnia, on the other hand, is when you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, resulting in severe fatigue the next day. Please note that sleep deprivation and insomnia are not the same things.

Sleep deprivation is actually a consequence of insomnia, while insomnia is the condition itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in America, affecting up to 1/3rd of all Americans regardless of gender or race.

Suffering from both of these conditions at once may take a huge toll on your health, and will become very harmful if left untreated.

Let us take a look at the causes of both conditions (and what you can do to counter them) below.

Causes of Depression

There are at least nine types of depression that we know of.

These include: major depression (also known as major depressive disorder), persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, psychotic depression, peripartum (or postpartum) depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, situational depression, and atypical depression.

causes of insomnia

The causes of each type vary depending on what type you have. A traumatic event in your life may trigger one type of depression, while chemical changes in your brain, either from a natural occurrence or from your medication, may be the cause of another.

Typically, though, depression is caused by a multitude of factors at once.

Situational Depression

Situational depression, medically known as adjustment disorder with depressed mood, is a unique case in that it tends to last for a much shorter time compared to the other types.

It is caused by a major loss or change in a person’s life that they cannot cope with. Typically, a death of a loved one; sudden life changes, such as being forced to move or having to retire; financial or social issues; traumatic experiences like an accident, a huge fight, or even a natural disaster.

Suffering from another illness may also trigger this type of depression.


You may feel sad, hopeless, anxious, or overwhelmed after the inciting incident. Of course, these are natural responses to trauma, but when these feelings drag on for months without end, then you may have situational depression.

You may also find that you have trouble focusing all throughout your day, have trouble even functioning properly, or find that you have no interest in doing things that you used to enjoy.

Most people who suffer from this type of depression begin to show these symptoms within 90 days of the traumatic incident or incidents.

It is also worth noting that the symptoms of this type of depression are very similar to that of major depression.


Some people may not seek help for this condition because they believe that this is simply their way of grieving.

Still, it is unhealthy to dwell on an event several months after it has already happened, and, without proper guidance or treatment, situational depression can quickly develop into other types of mental illness, including other forms of depression.

depression and insomnia

Treatment for situational depression (as well as a good start for treating a majority of other types of depression) includes a regular exercise regiment, eating healthy, keeping a regular sleep schedule, keeping in touch with loved ones, and busying yourself with a hobby or passion project.

Your physical, mental, and emotional health are all intertwined with one another, so taking care of one aspect may improve the condition of another.

A Note on Chemical Imbalances

It is important to note that, while the idea of a chemical imbalance in your brain being the root cause of mental illness is a popular one, it is also a rather controversial one.

Mostly, researchers believe that mental illnesses (including depression) are derived from a variety of factors both biological and environmental and that the phrase “chemical imbalance” is a dishonest diagnosis.

These imbalances are said to be due to your brain either producing too much or too little of certain neurotransmitters, which are natural chemicals that your brain produces to allow your nerve cells to communicate with one another.

Some who still believe this theory claim that antidepressants elevating a patient’s mood is proof enough that this theory is a sound one; however, many other seasoned researchers will again refute this.

Antidepressants are not some miracle cure, nor should they be seen as a regular pick-me-up. Many people who do take them fail to see any improvement in their condition at all, and one study has found that “almost 40 percent of patients failed to respond” to them.

It also does not help that there are no reliable ways to test if someone has a chemical imbalance in their brain. Because of this sheer lack of evidence, many psychologists and psychiatrists alike have opted to use other methods to diagnose depression and other types of mental illness.

Here’s a video explaining more on depression and insomnia.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by a number of different factors, including poor sleeping habits, substance abuse, certain physical or medical conditions, and/or mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression.

Poor Sleeping Habits

Try to avoid taking any afternoon naps if you suffer from insomnia.

While you may feel like you need one, especially if you had stayed up late the night before, these naps may actually make it more difficult to fall asleep at night and may disrupt your normal sleeping pattern.

Avoiding Certain Substances

Avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible, too, especially before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant that most everyone is familiar with nowadays, and, in moderate doses every once in a while, it is relatively harmless.

However, it is important to keep in mind that caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours or more, so it is unwise to drink coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeine-infused drinks at least a couple hours before you plan to sleep.

While alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it may also disturb your sleep later on in the night.

Physical and Medical Conditions

Suffering from any physical aches or pains, especially those that become more prevalent at night, as well as taking certain medicines to alleviate these conditions right before bed may also lead to bouts of insomnia.

Typically, birth control and medicines that treat colds or nasal allergies, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, asthma, and depression are the most common for keeping one awake at night.

sleep deprivation and insomnia

Mental Illness

Those who already suffer from depression have a much higher risk of developing severe insomnia, and vice versa.

This is because the overwhelming feelings of sadness, guilt, or hopelessness can kick the brain into overdrive, especially at night when you have nothing else to distract these troubling thoughts.

In turn, the lack of quality sleep may make you feel hopeless that your condition will not get any better, morphing into a form of depression.

How to Sleep When Depressed

Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to guarantee a good night’s sleep, even if you decide to take a sleeping aid like Nyquil.

However, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make right now to correct your sleeping habits and try to improve your overall quality of sleep.

Here are a few measures that PsychCentral suggests you take in order to better cope with both insomnia and depression:

Developing a Regular Sleep Schedule

If you sleep at irregular times every night (say you go to bed at 12 AM one night, and three in the morning the next night, then you are not allowing your body to figure out when it is time to settle down, resulting in a confused circadian rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is basically your body’s 24-hour internal clock that tracks the times you normally sleep, eat, and are most awake during the day.

If you do not sleep at around the same time every night, your natural circadian rhythm will be thrown off, making you feel sleepy during the day or more awake than you should be at night.

By developing a strict nighttime routine that helps you relax, and by making yourself fall asleep at relatively the same time every night, your body is bound to catch on and finally regulate that pesky circadian rhythm once more.

This will result in better sleep and an overall improvement in health and mood that can help you to combat against your depression.

Writing a Sleep Journal

It may also help to keep a sleep journal where you can record how long you’ve slept, how many times you woke up in the middle of the night, or approximately how long it took for you to go to sleep as soon as you turned off your lights.

can lack of sleep cause depression

This will give you a better idea of your circadian rhythm as well as what times of night you can try to go about fixing it.

As you continue to keep track of your sleep schedule, you may find your circadian rhythm and your overall quality of sleep improving as the nights go on.


This can be done either when you have some time in the day or right as you are trying to get to sleep.

Focus solely on taking slow, deep breaths, as this can help to quell the intrusive thoughts in your head and help you fall asleep faster.

Other Caused of Insomnia

The lack of sleep caused by insomnia can cause other pressing issues as well. You may have difficulty concentrating on any task or activity you have to perform during the day, which can be especially dangerous for those who do a lot of physical work or have long commutes.

You may also find yourself snapping more often at small things that normally wouldn’t annoy you, or that your moods tend to change at an alarming rate.

A lack of sleep can also put you at an increased risk for many serious medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, seizures, and diabetes.

Sleep deprivation may even shorten your life expectancy. You are also at an increased risk of developing mental illnesses other than depression as well, namely anxiety and some mood disorders.

Here’s a video explaining more information on how to sleep when depressed.


As you can see, while insomnia is a symptom of depression, it is not an actual cause of it. Correlation does not equal causation, after all.

Still, insomnia and depression are very closely related, and being susceptible to one condition may indeed increase the risk of obtaining the other.

By developing a regular sleep schedule or by meditating, however, you may be able to overcome your insomnia and find the means to tackle your depression too.


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