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Sleep Deprivation: A Serious Risk for Depression

Sep 14, 2023
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Do you believe the warnings that lack of sleep can be all that harmful to your health? In recognition of Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Month, here's what you should know about the correlation between sleep deprivation, mood disorders, and depression.

No doubt you’ve probably heard the warnings and cautionary advice from experts who recommend making healthy sleep habits a part of your everyday rituals. Experts say that an adult needs an average of 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Do you really believe that lack of sleep can be all that harmful to your health?  Since September is Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Month, this blog addresses what you need to know about the correlation between sleep deprivation, mood disorders, and depression*. 

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

According to the National Institutes of Health, (NIH) during healthy sleep our body repairs adaptive processing, functional brain activity, and integrity of the medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala connections, and thus improves the capacity to regulate emotions as well as an individual's well-being.

If you are NOT getting enough sleep your body keeps pumping cortisol into your bloodstream, raising your heart rate and blood pressure to keep you alert.  The continued stress can increase feelings of anxiety and mood swings.

Most people can sense a correlation between sleep and mood: You obviously feel better when you have had a good night’s sleep, as opposed to not getting enough. But there is also a correlation between lack of sleep and depression.  Some people experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously, while others will experience sleep deprivation before depression. However, both conditions can increase the risk of developing either condition.

The Link Between Sleep Disorders and Depression

People who have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea are more likely to be at risk for mental health conditions like depression, according to the Sleep Foundation. “If you have untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing throughout the night and a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness — that link becomes even more profound,” says M. Eric Dyken, MD, a professor of neurology and the director of the Sleep Disorders Program at the University of Iowa Health Care in Iowa City.

This is why Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is associated with probable major depression, regardless of factors like weight, age, sex, or race, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Snorting, gasping or stopping breathing while asleep was associated with nearly all depression symptoms, including feeling hopeless and feeling like a failure,” said Anne G. Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “We expected persons with sleep-disordered breathing to report trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, or feeling tired and having little energy, but not the other symptoms.”

A study that tracked 178 people over four years concluded that among adults with obstructive sleep apnea, 53.9 percent and 46.1 percent of them had some degree of anxiety or depression, respectively.

As many as 14 percent of suicidal adults with major depressive disorder were found to have obstructive sleep apnea, according to research based on this randomized clinical trial.

The long-term effects of sleep deprivation can be much more detrimental to your health and have been associated with a wide range of comorbidities including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

Tips and Treatment for Sleep-Related Depression

Treating sleep apnea can help reduce or eliminate depression. "We see patients with several layered complex disorders impacting their overall sleep and general life.  Often taking just one positive step, such as treatment for OSA and improving their sleep, can give a patient increased energy to feel better, have a new outlook, and make additional changes to improve their quality of life," said Dr. Becky Fox, DMD, Diplomate ABDSM, PDSM sleep dentist. Some self-help methods that you may try to combat both conditions include:

  1. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  2. Be consistent with your sleep routine.
  3. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom.
  4. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  5. Exercise.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, you will want to initiate a conversation with your primary care provider or a mental health counselor to determine the source.

If sleep apnea or poor-quality sleep is determined, ask your doctor to refer you to our office at Pennsylvania Dental Sleep Medicine.  Our sleep dentist our certified by the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, providing our patients with an effective treatment option known as Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT).  OAT is an effective alternative to CPAP, which helps to achieve quality sleep and treat associated comorbidities.

Quality sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity for your health. Give your body the care it deserves, both physically and mentally. Start a new, refreshed outlook every day by contacting Pennsylvania Dental Sleep Medicine.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center.


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