We all have days that are down days, where something’s gone wrong in the universe of life and just doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. Or maybe the loss of a hoped-for job, the ending of a desired relationship or a fight with a family member. When this sad or down feeling lingers for two weeks or more, and we can’t seem to climb up out of it, we can be termed depressed. Persistent sadness or crying, lack of motivation to do the things we usually enjoy, even trouble concentrating are the hallmarks of this medical condition. But what about sleep? Insomnia, especially the kind of insomnia where we awaken much too early in the morning, unable to go back to sleep is one of the cardinal features of depression. It signals the alteration of the calming brain chemistry that makes for normal good sleep. This applies to a whopping 80% of depressed people, though another, smaller percentage sleep far too much for their normal routine.
In a recent article from Psychology Today, a sleep researcher from the University of Rochester goes even further in making the connection between sleep and depression. Dr. Michael Perlis studied the onset of a depressive episode and found that the problems with sleeping preceded the depression by five weeks. And it’s not just the quantity of sleep that is different, but the quality of sleep as well. He goes on to learn that the stages of sleep leading up to REM sleep are shortened, and REM sleep is lengthened and intensified, interfering with the consolidation of memories. What this means is not completely certain, but it appears that managing the sleep problem may lead to avoiding the depression.
This is kind of startling news. We had always thought that depression makes for poor sleep, but never imagined that poor sleep might be a causative factor in depression. Although the evidence is not conclusive, it points again to the importance of getting good sleep, and getting help when we cannot get good sleep. And it points to a time frame for judging when poor sleep can have other unintended consequences, such as depression.
The results are not all in on this link between sleep and depression, but this study is one more piece of the picture linking the two in some new and complex ways.