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Sleep deprivation increases the risk of depression

The fact that insomnia may cause depression is perhaps unsurprising to many insomniacs, yet researchers are still split as to whether insomnia is a symptom or a cause of depression.

Sleep problems are usually seen as a symptom of depression - however it appears that newer research is finding that depression is often a symptom of insomnia.

A study in 2010 found that insomnia may cause clinical depression and more recently a presentation made by scientists at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting confirmed that sleep deprivation may cause depression.

Scientists found changes in the responses and actual brain structure of rats that were sleep deprived which mimicked the changes seen in the brains of depressed humans.

So how sleep deprived were the rats in this experiment before they started showing symptoms of depression? Well, scientists found that after a week of only four hours sleep, there was less sensitivity in the areas of the brain that regulate mood. After one month of reduced sleep there were changes in the hippocampus area of the brain - it had actually reduced in volume and was producing fewer new cells.

At both the one week and one month stages of sleep deprivation, scientists found that the brains of the rats had become less efficient at transmitting serotonin signals. It took a week of recovery sleep before serotonin receptors returned to their original levels.

We were surprised that there were such dramatic effects in such a short amount of time even though the rats were still getting four hours of sleep each day. It is worth reiterating that this study was performed on rats, not humans. However, it does show just how serious the consequences of sleep deprivation can be in a relatively short period of time.

Yet another reminder that insomnia should never be ignored.

Source: Medscape

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Last updated: January 16, 2012

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

Leave a Comment

  • Julia
    November 25, 2013, 3:54 pm

    While there are a great number of studies supporting a strong correlation between insomnia and depression, it is not true that sleep deprivation leads to depression. Depressed patients tend to have significantly more REM sleep than non-depressed patients. REM sleep is connected to facets of mood regulation and there are many studies investigating that connection. However, there are also decades of research about Sleep Deprivation Therapy. In SDT, patients with depression are kept awake all night and over 60% report feeling much better the next day. It is around the same effectiveness as antidepressant medication. It’s been replicated over and over and over again. The depression returns with sleep, even if it’s just a 2 minute nap. The common theory is that depression is associated with an unusually large amount of REM sleep, and depriving depressed subjects of REM alleviates the depression. Sleeping more when depressed will not decrease depression. In most cases, waking up earlier results in mood improving throughout the day, as the time since the last REM sleep increases. Getting more sleep than necessary is not helpful. Most antidepressants decrease REM sleep. Too much REM is bad. Not enough sleep is bad too. Balance is great…and hard to achieve/maintain during depression. But saying sleep deprivation leads to depression is not really accurate. Waking up at the same time every day will often be more important that getting to bed at a desired time. Regular waking up times tend to create regular bed times. But I’m just reading a whole bunch about it for a paper and felt like commenting anddddddddd now I’m done. Toodles.

    Reply
    • Martin Reed
      November 25, 2013, 4:16 pm

      Thanks for your contribution, Julia.

      I simply report on research as it’s published (or as I come across it). In this post in particular, I also wrote that researchers are still split as to whether insomnia is a symptom or a cause of depression.

      I try to state the facts so readers can do their own research and come to their own informed conclusions. I think your comment will really help others to do just that – so thank you.

      Thanks for mentioning Sleep Deprivation Therapy, too – I think that’s a very overlooked technique.

      Reply