Persistent fatigue and low energy are among the most common symptoms associated with depression. When you’re depressed, certain brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine, primarily) are often out of balance. These brain chemicals regulate various things, including sleep, energy, focus and motivation levels. When these chemicals are off, sleep tends to suffer in one of two ways.
- A depressed person may sleep excessively. She may sleep well over eight hours nightly and still feel tired all the time. This doesn’t mean she is being lazy or irresponsible. It means her nervous system isn’t functioning normally, and is trying to repair itself with extra sleep. Attempts to regulate sleep by going to bed early, drinking a second cup of coffee in the morning, etc., don’t necessarily work. Until the depression is resolved, excessive sleeping may be a challenge.
- A depressed person may have problems staying asleep. Maybe he falls asleep easily enough, but then wakes throughout the night with racing thoughts. Or maybe he wakes a few hours earlier than he intends most mornings, with a sudden “download” of the day’s various stresses. Rarely getting adequate sleep, he may feel tired throughout the day, “going through the motions” of his daily life without really feeling a sense of connection and purpose.
When sleep issues occur as a symptom of depression, treating the depression is key. Directly address the core issue, and various depressive symptoms—including sleep issues—will likely resolve. That said, sleep issues can arise from a variety of other issues, so if you’re uncertain about the cause of your sleep issue, talk to a medical doctor. If you feel your sleep problems are symptoms of depression, you can try a variety of treatment options, including:
- Exercise (at least 3 hours before bed)
- Meditation and deep breathing exercises, especially near your bedtime or in the morning
- Daily mood journaling
- Improved diet
- Limiting alcohol and other substances
- Individual counseling with a licensed mental health professional
- Couples counseling, if you feel your depression may be triggered/exacerbated by relationship issues
- Medication consultation with a primary care doctor, psychiatrist or other physician
If you feel you may be suffering from depression, but are uncertain how to begin treatment, talking with a therapist is often a good place to start. A therapist will help you evaluate your symptoms, suggest a treatment plan, and coordinate with a medical doctor, sleep specialist or other care provider as needed.