If someone close to you is suffering from lack of sleep and depression then you might have seen some changes in their sleep pattern. This is because depression and sleep problems go hand-in-hand. Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea may lead to depression. On the other hand, depression can lead to sleep disturbance. Up to 70 percent of people suffering from depression have some form of sleep trouble.

So which is the starting point? It could be either. Poor or disturbed sleep can be the starting point and create difficulties in regulating emotions, eventually leaving a person more vulnerable to depressive disorders in the future. Depression itself is proven to cause sleep difficulties such as shortening the amount of slow-wave sleep that an individual gets.

For those suffering from depression, challenges such as financial challenges, arguments with spouses, and getting stuck in traffic could also cause them to have more night-time wake-ups and trouble going back to sleep, as compared to someone without depression.

It is for this reason that understanding the connection between sleep and depression is important. One can spot the signs and risks early, seek the right help, and recover faster.

sleep and depression

What is the most common sleep challenge for people with depression?

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder linked to depression. Nearly 3 in 4 adults who have depression also have insomnia.  Whereas about 1 in 5 people with depression have obstructive sleep apnea, and 1 in 7 have hypersomnia.

Watch out for these common sleep disorders linked to sleep and depression

Let’s look at the defining characteristics of sleep disturbances:


Insomnia is when an individual either has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep long enough to get adequate restful sleep. Many people experience short-term insomnia which lasts for a few days or weeks and is typically caused by stress.  Chronic insomnia causes this kind of sleep trouble three or more times a week for 3 months or longer.


This is when you are often tired during the day and feel the urge to nap at unusual times such as lunch hour or during a meeting. You may sleep for longer hours than usual, and find it hard to wake up. People suffering from hypersomnia also feel irritable, anxious, and foggy when they are awake.

Obstructive sleep apnea

When heavy snoring cuts off a person’s breathing when they sleep, it is known as obstructive sleep apnea. It can wake you up multiple times in a night and while a person can’t remember waking up, they may feel groggy and grouchy the following day due to lack of sleep. Often excess body weight leads to sleep apnea, but there are multiple causes. A doctor can test to diagnose if you have sleep apnea and treat it.

How to manage depression and sleep disturbances?

You should consult a doctor or a sleep specialist if you:

  • Feel tired and sleepy during the day
  • Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Experience physical discomfort, pain or other challenges(obstructive sleep apnoea) that prevent you from getting a full night’s sleep

Doctors will recommend a suitable treatment for your condition. For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT) is generally recommended for insomnia. While continuous positive airway pressure(CPAP) devices for apnea help improve sleep and allow you to potentially avert related conditions like depression.

Watch out for signs of sleep disturbances and depression

Common signs and symptoms of major depressive disorder or clinical depression comprise sadness, despair, trouble focusing, fogginess, lethargy, daytime sleepiness, loss of interest or enthusiasm in activities that one enjoyed previously, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you have experienced any of these symptoms persistently, it is important to consult your physician or get a recommendation for a therapist.

Seek treatment for both sleep problems and depression

Treatment for one does not automatically cure the other.  If you are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, for example, it may improve your overall mood and symptoms but may not necessarily help your sleep.

Doctors have designed a special talk therapy called cognitive behavioural talk therapy for insomnia or CBT-I.  There is evidence that when combined with depression treatment, CBT-I helps improve sleep problems and reduces the possibility of future depressive episodes.  Additionally CPAP devices can help sleep apnea patients considerably.

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - sleep and depression


Poor quality sleep increases a person’s risk of depression by diminishing emotional resilience(the buffer of positive emotions) that enables people to cope with stress and challenges of life, says a recent John Hopkins study.

The treatment options for depression-related sleep issues can be challenging because of the case diversity. Consult your healthcare provider about your symptoms and the best line of treatment for you.