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Is There A Link Between Insomnia and Depression?

Insomnia is among the most popular sleep syndromes. Other common ones consist of bruxism, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, sleepwalking and sleep apnea.

Lately, insomnia has become a major public health concern. The prevalence of this disorder varies across countries significantly. DSM-IV approximates insomnia’s prevalence across the world to be between 6% and 10%.

In addition to being linked with the start of cardiovascular ailments, insomnia causes social-economic issues, results in self-medication, affects job performance and is a major contributing factor to car accidents.

Depression and Insomnia Connection

Is there a connection between depression and insomnia? Yes, there is!

The link between depression or mental illness and insomnia, in general, is bidirectional.

The numbers: 50% of folks with insomnia grapple with depression while 90% of folks with depression grapple with sleep issues.

Sleep disturbance (read insomnia) is a prominent sign and symptom of depression. Initially, doctors used to regard it as depression’s secondary manifestation.

Today, the National Institutes of Health opine that over 50 million American residents grapple with long-term and chronic sleep-related disorders. The same report indicates that an extra 20 million report having occasional sleep challenges. Apprehension and worry can play a role in sleeping challenges.

Alternatively, they can worsen a prevailing issue. Abnormal sleeping patterns, which characterize sleep issues, can interfere with emotional, mental and physical functioning.

Chronic insomnia can be responsible for the development of depression and anxiety disorders. Some of the characteristics of chronic insomnia include:

  • Waking up too early
  • Challenges falling or staying asleep
  • General poor sleep quality

Of great importance to note is that chronic insomnia is a major marker of depression and anxiety disorder.

What does this mean? It simply means that if you suffer from insomnia, on top of getting treated for your sleep disturbance, you should also consider being examined for depression and/or anxiety disorder.

By concentrating on insomnia as an indication of misery and worry, it can help identify mental illness and other ailments present. Treating insomnia goes miles in the reduction of getting anxiety disorder.

Sleep disorders comorbid with mental disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and MDD (major depression disorder).

Read Also: Seriously, Can You Die From Insomnia?

Processing of Emotions

While it is unclear how insomnia can be responsible for making someone develop depression, research opines that it affects the capability of patients to process negative emotions.

Link Between Insomnia and Depression, Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ, emotions

Image Source: Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ

Sleep-deficient folks tend to display more emotional reaction towards unfriendly photos compared to friendly ones or photos that evoke impartial emotive content. Those that are not sleep-deprived do not display any changes in emotional reactivity.

The same research, through brain scans, concluded that those with insomnia displayed greater activity within the emotional processing area of the brain whenever they utilized a strategy to mitigate their reaction to photos compared to when the same strategy was not employed.

These revelations are an indication that insomnia makes it challenging for people to react properly to negative emotions. This worsens their sleep disorder hence making them susceptible to getting depression.

Mechanism Between Insomnia and Depression

The circadian process regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When it is working optimally, this process operates in-tandem with the normal day’s cycle. As our bodies prepare to sleep and daylight turns into nighttime, we tend to get tired. As night turns into day, we become awake.

The internal mechanisms that inform the circadian cycle entail a sophisticated transposition of the neurophysiological and neurochemical that the hypothalamus presides over.

On the other hand, depression is both a mood disorder and a medical condition.

Although there are countless antecedents to depression such as environmental and genetic factors, the neurophysiological causes relate to a lack of some chemicals in the brain which regulates norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.

Nonetheless, there is more to these neurotransmitters than mood regulation. They also play a huge role in sleep efficiency.

Disruptions in the brain chemicals result in sleep disturbances especially REM sleep. They can also result in more restlessness in normal times when we need to be in bed. This creates a vicious cycle where the more aggravated one’s depression turns out to, the more he or she suffers from insomnia. The reverse is also true – the more your insomnia becomes, the more depression you suffer from.

Although insomnia and depression are interlinked, at times they are independent of each other. In addition to that, they can constitute a larger array of comorbid conditions that call for particular treatment plans to handle. For the best solution, a doctor might recommend some treatments which we’ll have a look shortly.

Health Risks Related to Insomnia and Depression

Sleep disturbances and depression can adversely affect your physical health if you leave them untreated for a long time.

Link Between Insomnia and Depression, Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ, sleep deprivation

Image Source: Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ

This 2010 study established that lack of adequate sleep was linked to a higher risk of death. Some of the health issues that can come as a result of lack of sleep include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart attack and disease

Depression constricts blood vessels that might, in turn, raise your risk of heart disease/attack. Fatigue, pains, aches and a weak immune system are also characteristics of those with depression.

Treatment of Insomnia and Depression

Folks suffering from insomnia and depression suffer from more intense depressive symptoms, lower remission rates and need longer treatment periods than those suffering from depression without insomnia.

Treatment for depression might result in slight improvements in sleep issues particularly for mild symptoms of depression. Nonetheless, insomnia continues unless medical practitioners target it for direct treatment.

For instance, in this research trial, 51% of folks that overcame depression after undergoing cognitive behavior therapy of psychological medication still experienced insomnia.

So, can treating insomnia prevent getting mental illness? This study done in Australia seems to suggest so. A huge percentage of those who completed their insomnia intervention treatment displayed lower incidences of symptoms related to depression compared to those who didn’t.

Various treatments are available.

They include:

  • Antidepressant drugs
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Magnesium
  • Lavender oil
  • Spending time outside

Take Antidepressant Drugs

Although antidepressant drugs are administered to patients, not all classes of these drugs are issued. Some classes can exacerbate your quality of sleep.

Drugs in these classes can cause rapid eye movement and impair sleep continuity. The best drugs are sedating antidepressants which boast the ability to escalate slow-wave sleep, ameliorate sleep efficiency and reduce sleep latency.

For the best results, antidepressants need to be used together with sleep medications. Folks who are treated for both depression and insomnia enjoy improved depression scores and sleep better.

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Link Between Insomnia and Depression, Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Image Source: Terry Cralle, MS, RN, CPHQ

Treating insomnia using cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective. It is tailored to encouraging not only realistic and positive thought processes when it comes to sleep but also healthier behaviors.

Through CBT, patients are encouraged to practice healthier sleep habits like heading to bed always at the same time as well as getting rid of all distractions inside the bedroom.

CBT also assists folks to counter negative sleep affirmations such as ”I can never fall asleep,” with positive ones such as ”It is not abnormal to take a little while to sleep.”

Unlike the use of drugs, CBT takes a slightly longer time to start working (8 – 12 weeks). While that might be the case, the benefits of therapy are long-lasting. With this therapy, what you are learning is a skill set. After you have mastered it, it remains within your system for a long time.

Do you know that CBT tends to be more effective compared to sleeping pills especially in middle-aged and young patients? Now you know!

Depending on your case, some of the cognitive-behavioral therapist techniques that your physician can recommend include:

  • Improvement in your sleep environment – Helps you create a stress-free sleeping environment.
  • Sleep hygiene – Entails altering lifestyle habits that affect sleep like too much drinking or smoking.
  • Sleep restriction – Reduces time spent in bed resulting in partial deprivation of sleep.
  • Stimulus control therapy – Helps get rid of factors that condition the mind to fight sleep.
  • Biofeedback – Observe biological signs like muscle tension and heart rate. The technique shows you how you can adjust them.
  • Passively remaining awake – It also goes by the name paradoxical intention. The technique helps you get rid of worry thus helping you relax making it effortless to sleep.
  • Relaxation training – Helps you calm your body and mind.

Take Magnesium

A naturally occurring mineral, magnesium is effective at helping relieve stress and muscles relax. This goes miles in encouraging healthy sleeping patterns. Taking 500 mg of this mineral daily for a period that will be directed by your physician reduces insomnia symptoms and enhanced sleep patterns.

Ladies can take 300 mg per day while men can take 400 mg per day. You can opt to take doses between evening and morning or just before bedtime. The other way to take magnesium is by adding a single cup of magnesium flakes into your evening bath. Doing so will ensure the mineral gets absorbed into your skin.

Consuming magnesium with food is recommended as it reduces abdominal discomfort. You need to consult your doctor to establish whether your body will react negatively to the mineral.

Consider Lavender Oil

Lavender Oil

Terry Cralle, RN

Lavender is highly effective when it comes to promoting sleep, reducing pain and improving mood. Oral consumption is more effective compared to other methods of intake.

According to this 2014 study, lavender oil capsules are magical in enhancing sleep patterns in folks with depression particularly when consumed as an antidepressant.

In addition to that, individuals also displayed reduced anxiety levels that seemingly facilitated better sleep. Orally consume 20 – 80 mg of lavender per day. You can also take it as per the directions of your physician.

It is prudent to consider adding lavender essential oil into a diffuser. On the other hand, lavender can be applied on a pillow. Another option is lavender tea.

The best attribute about lavender is the fact that it is very safe to use. Some slight side effects of this oil include nausea, constipation or headache.

Also Read: Can Lavender Oil Help You Sleep?

Spend Time Outdoors

Being exposed to natural light can play a big role in priming your body for a peaceful night of sleep. Taking a couple of hours or days on the outdoors is magical in helping your body to be more in sync with nature’s light and dark cycle. Ultimately, you are able to enjoy longer and uninterrupted sleep.

Of great importance to note is that the light being talked about here is the natural one not artificial light which is notorious for thwarting our sleep. Darkness and sunlight activate the production of some hormones in the brain.

Sunlight exposure increases the production of serotonin. This hormone is responsible for not only assisting individuals to feel focused and calm but also boosting their mood. At night, dark lighting helps the brain produce another hormone melatonin, which is responsible for sleep.

Inadequate exposure to the sun causes your serotonin levels to the tank. Low serotonin levels are linked with higher risks of depression which is medically known as SAD.

Simply put, this is a type of depression that comes about due to changing seasons. Therefore, the next time you a boost in your moods, consider exposing yourself to sunlight.

Camping is one of the activities that experts recommend to allow you to spend more time outdoors. According to them, camping can help folks grappling with insomnia to fall asleep 2.5 hours sooner compared to others.


Having looked at all the information linking insomnia to depression, it is only prudent to come up with a summary. Here you go:

  • Insomnia is among the symptoms of depression
  • Insomnia tends to get worse when coupled with depression
  • Insomnia patients have a ten times higher risk of sinking into depression compared to those without the sleeping disorder
  • Insomnia not only affects the quality of life of a person, but it also results in depression
  • Lying awake worsens depressive thoughts and activates depression
  • Insomnia alters brain chemicals hence triggering depression

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