Poor sleep identified as a cause of depression

New studies show that insomnia is a significant cause of depression Photo: Sleep Angel (public)

WASHINGTON, November 20, 2013 — Mental health professionals have long held that depression is a significant cause of insomnia. Now researchers say the corollary is true:  insomnia is a significant cause of depression.

According to Dr. Nada L. Stotland, professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago, “This research “Would be an absolute boon to the field” according to Dr. Nada L. Stotland. 

Experts in the field of mental health agree, saying if larger studies support the findings of Ryerson University of Toronto, the revelations could be the biggest advance in treatment of depression since the introduction of Prozac in 1987.

Depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States, affecting approximately 18 million Americans. About 50 percent of those experience insomnia.

The Toronto study is the first of four underwritten by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is also evaluating an inexpensive series of talk therapies designed to encourage and instruct patients to achieve the restorative sleep necessary to combat depression.

The studies are also being conducted at Stanford, Duke and the University of Pittsburg.

The Toronto study discovered 87 percent of study participants resolved their insomnia with four bi-weekly talk therapy sessions. They reported that their symptoms of depression were minimized or gone completely after two months. The impressive results were the same whether the study participant was taking a drug or a placebo.

The pilot study that served to inspire additional studies was conducted at Stanford University in 2008 and headed by professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Rachel Manber. Manber says the relationship between depression and insomnia “are bi-directional”.

Mental health professionals and doctors have long known poor sleep to be a symptom of depression but this new research strongly supports the bi-directional aspect of depression as a symptom of insomnia and basic poor sleep habits.

The therapy used for insomnia related depression is called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBT-1. This therapy teaches people to adhere to such basics as regular sleep-waking  cycles, avoidance of stimulants and certain foods prior to retiring and avoiding using the bedroom for watching TV, work or any non-related sleep activity. Eliminating daytime napping is essential as is exercise early in the day.

Dr, Andrew Krystal who is running the CB-1 study at Duke calls this new information a “huge and unexplored frontier of psychiatry”. He further explains “our body has complex circadian cycles and mostly in psychiatry, we’ve ignored them. Our treatments are driven by convenience. We treat during the day and make little effort to find out what’s happening at night.”

Restorative sleep appears to be essential for good health and to ward off or reduce or prevent symptoms of disease and disorder. Yet until recently, restorative has been underrated by health professionals. In fact, NIH severely cut back sleep research a few years ago, but has now recognized the importance of restorative sleep.

Many health care professionals suggest since the sub-or unconscious brain registers and reacts to certain environments in given manner, if the bedroom is a place of conflict, fear, or disturbance of any kind, upon entering the bedroom, the sub-conscious mind will respond as entering a hostile environment then stress and anxiety will interfere with rest and sleep.

One oft mentioned suggestion is to watch about 30 minutes of comedy prior to retiring for the day to offset stress and let laughter be the medicine for a relaxed mind and rest.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist.


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Paul R. Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science

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