Fight and Prevent Depression by Getting Enough Sleep

Updated on June 13, 2017
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Slaine M. Logan hails from the state of North Carolina. She has long been an avid researcher, product reviewer, and health fanatic.

In order to keep serotonin optimally supplied to the brain, you need to get enough sleep to keep the receptors functioning at their best.
In order to keep serotonin optimally supplied to the brain, you need to get enough sleep to keep the receptors functioning at their best. | Source

Sleep and Depression Connection

Most people are aware of at least some of the physical consequences that can result from habitual loss of sleep. However, in addition to the physical effects, lack of sleep can also have deleterious effects on mental capacity and emotional health.

Among the many reasons why getting enough quality sleep is important, preventing depression can be added to the list. It has long been known that depression can cause insomnia. Insomnia can occur for many reasons, but it is sometimes an early warning sign of depression. However, the cause-and-effect relationship can also be reversed. Intentional skimping on sleep, or a long-term inability to sleep can cause depression, as well as other mood disorders. Research published in Biological Psychiatry revealed that as much as one fifth of people who have chronic insomnia are eventually diagnosed with a major form of depression.

The chemical structure of dopamine. Too much, or too little dopamine in the brain will result in depressive or manic conditions.
The chemical structure of dopamine. Too much, or too little dopamine in the brain will result in depressive or manic conditions. | Source

The Sleep and Wake Cycle – Homeostatic Process Component

The human body, like those of other animals, has an affinity for homeostasis. The Biology Online dictionary defines homeostasis as “the tendency of an organism or a cell to regulate its internal conditions, usually by a system of feedback controls, so as to stabilize health and functioning, regardless of the outside changing conditions.” The body spontaneously will work towards keeping a constant internal condition. It has many homeostatic processes, for instance

  • Temperature regulation
  • Acid-base balance
  • Blood sugar concentration
  • Calcium levels

Some of these homeostatic processes can result in a rapid fatality if they fail or are overridden. For instance, the body can withstand only a slight variation in pH levels in the blood. It works to keep the blood in a tight range of 7.35 to 7.45, with an ideal of 7.4. Anything outside this level requires immediate attention or harm can occur. If the pH of the blood moves to below 6.8, just 0.55 outside of the tolerated minimum, or above 7.8, just 0.35 above the tolerated maximum, the results most likely will be fatal.

Among the homeostatic processes, there is also one that helps drive the sleep and waking cycle. The good news is, the acute consequences of overriding or disrupting this process are not nearly as potentially serious as something such as pH levels or warped blood sugar levels. The bad news is, partially because the short-term consequences are not as severe, other than feeling sleepy, people are more likely to not change their lifestyle habits to fix the problem.

When a person gets less sleep than necessary on a particular day, they acquire a sleep deficit. Their body will attempt to correct this deficit the following day by amplifying the homeostatic process, making someone experience symptoms during the day of feeling drowsier. If this is consistently counteracted by stimulants such as caffeine, and sleep-disrupting alarm clocks each day, they can become accustomed to these symptoms, and the condition becomes chronic.

The Sleep and Wake Cycle – Circadian Rhythm Component

The familiar term circadian rhythm, also known as our “body clock,” is even more real than some are aware. It is based and controlled biochemically by an area of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This area governs the circadian rhythm by sending signals to other parts of the brain by responding to the amount of light in its environment, as well as the temperature of your surroundings.

A key assistant in this process is the pineal gland, also called the conarium, which is located in the epithalamus. It is an endocrine gland that secretes the hormone N-acetyl-5-methoxy tryptamine, more commonly and popularly known as melatonin. This hormone is the most proximate regulator of the urge to sleep and stay awake. It also plays a role in regulating the production and release of other hormones, such as those of the female reproductive system.

An example of proof of the light sensitivity of this process is the condition of jet lag. When people fly to a different time zone, they often experience sleeping problems the first night, due to the disruption of the secretion cycle. Others who work weekly changing shifts also are susceptible to suffering from this problem, especially at the beginning of each respective work week.

Diagram of a neurotransmitter being acquired by brain receptors. Habitual loss of sleep can partially disable these receptors, leaving someone with inadequate levels of molecules that regulate and stabilize moods.
Diagram of a neurotransmitter being acquired by brain receptors. Habitual loss of sleep can partially disable these receptors, leaving someone with inadequate levels of molecules that regulate and stabilize moods. | Source

Brain Responses

The consequential events that the brain and body go through due to lack of sleep can start earlier than had previously been known. Research has shown that if you cut your sleep short for just a week’s time, the receptors responsible for neurotransmission can become altered. This will result in them being less functional in terms of receiving serotonin, which is known as the “happy hormone.” Low serotonin levels and faulty receptors are linked to depression disorders.

In addition to low serotonin levels, the brain will also experience a shortage of dopamine, for the same reasons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and is also linked to feelings of wakefulness as well as mood regulation. A lack of balance of dopamine at either end can contribute to mental illnesses. Levels that are consistently too high are associated with manic conditions such as ADD and schizophrenia.

Prevent Depressive Mood Disorders With Adequate Sleep

If you are suffering from insomnia, it is important to make lifestyle adjustments, among which could be

  • Cutting back on caffeinated beverages in the evening
  • Exercise earlier in the day
  • Perform relaxation techniques, such as meditation

The good news is, there are several ways to treat insomnia. At least one is bound to work for you.

If you do not have insomnia, but are consciously trying to get by on as little sleep as possible, you should stop immediately. It will not only reduce your productivity and functionality, it will also lead you down the road to physical, mental, and emotional problems. The amount of necessary sleep will vary with the individual, however, most people will fall between seven to eight hours. If you are routinely getting less than six, you are most likely at risk for developing depression.

By the same token, if depression is the cause of your chronic loss of sleep, it is critically important that you maintain a treatment regimen, along with practicing lifestyle and relaxation techniques that will improve the problem. If your insomnia is not treated, it is likely to make the depression worse, and also put you at risk for developing another mood disorder.

In 2017, it is estimated that more than one third of Americans do not get enough sleep. Conversely, depression rates are also on the rise, especially among teenagers, who are averaging marked less sleep than 40 years ago. Increasing awareness of the importance of both quality and sufficient quantity of sleep can help reverse this trend, and lead to healthier, and less depressed societies.

Sources

  • Borbély AA, Achermann P., J Biol Rhythms. 1999 Dec;14(6):557-68. Sleep homeostasis and models of sleep regulation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10643753
  • https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm
  • Arianna Novati, Viktor Roman, PhD, Timur Cetin, Roelina Hagewoud, Johan A. den Boer, PhD, MD, Paul G.M. Luiten, PhD, and Peter Meerlo, PhD, Chronically Restricted Sleep Leads to Depression-Like Changes in Neurotransmitter Receptor Sensitivity and Neuroendocrine Stress Reactivity in Rats https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2579986/
  • http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

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      Shadowlighting 11 months ago

      Denise, it is indeed an empowering feeling when you manage to conquer a large problem, especially one as critical to your health as sleep!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 11 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When I was in the mental health unit being treated for depression, lack of sleep was a big problem for me. I could not relax enough to allow my body to sleep. I underwent bio-feedback therapy where I was connected to a device that would make a high pitched sound whenever my muscles would tense. As I concentrated on breathing slowly and relaxing, the pitch of the sound would go down and actually become pleasant. When I was released from the hospital, I was given a progressive muscle relaxation tape that I used for a long time, as it helped me to fall asleep. Now, I simply use quiet, relaxing music and it does much the same thing. While I listen to the music, my body relaxes and I am able to fall asleep rather quickly.

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