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How Sleep Disorders Can Lead to Depression

How Sleep Disorders Can Lead to Depression

We shouldn’t discount the impact that a lack of high-quality rest can have on our lives. One common problem is insomnia — trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. It can wreak havoc on your waking hours, causing everything from problems focusing to exhaustion-induced irritability with coworkers and family. 

It might surprise you to learn that, in addition to the physical effects that sleep disorders cause, they’re also associated with depression.

The experienced and caring provider team at Houston Neurological Institute has helped many patients regain the ability to get a good, restorative night’s sleep and enjoy a higher quality of life — including improved mood. 

Sleep disorders: the basics

Anything that prevents you from having a night of enough blissful, deep sleep can lead to a  sleep disorder. We mentioned insomnia above, but other examples are:

1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

OSA occurs when the soft tissues located at the back of your throat relax while you’re sleeping, blocking your airway. You stop breathing for a moment, but then your brain realizes the problem and causes you to wake up. Unbelievably, these interruptions can happen hundreds of times a night.

It’s easy to see why your physical and emotional health would suffer considerably after even a few nights with this problem. 

2. Nocturnal seizures

When there are shifts in your brain’s electrical activity during your sleep-wake cycle, you can experience a nocturnal seizure if you live with epilepsy. This type of seizure may cause you to awaken unexpectedly, confused, throw your arms and legs around, and even yell.

3. Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

RLS stops you from falling asleep because you have the uncontrollable urge to move your legs when you try to lie down. 

4. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is highly disruptive and causes you to fall asleep very suddenly during the day, even in the middle of a class, work, or activity. 


Learning more about this range of disorders makes it easier to understand why chronic loss of sleep leads to depression and the problems that accompany it. 

Sleep disorders and depression

Depression and sleep disorders represent a classic “chicken-and-egg” dilemma, since we know that people with insomnia, for instance, are 10 times more likely to have depression, and 75% of individuals living with depression also have problems falling and staying asleep. 

But why? It turns out that sleeping poorly may make you less able to regulate your emotions, and this is a risk factor for depression. If you’re living with depression and experiencing considerable stress, whether it’s work-related, stems from all the demands of having children, or is due to a crisis like divorce, this can lead to prolonged periods of disrupted sleep as well.

We also know other issues that go along with sleep problems, like waking up very early and having a hard time falling asleep at night, are closely associated with depression. Sleep problems may also impact how the neurotransmitter serotonin functions, which may make you more vulnerable to depression, since it regulates mood.

Being aware of the connection between sleep disorders and depression — no matter what order they emerge in — means that you’ll know to seek professional help when necessary. 

Understanding the signs of depression is essential. Appetite changes, problems focusing, loss of interest in things you once loved, suicidal thoughts, and yes, exhaustion, all point to depression. If you have any thought about ending your life, call 9-1-1 for help. 

If you have a sleep disorder and notice these symptoms, you could have depression that’s fueled by the disorder.

Solutions for sleep disorder-related depression

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, you’ll need a definitive diagnosis first. Fortunately, Houston Neurological Institute has a full-service sleep center, where we can closely study any sleep issues and determine their root causes. When you visit, we can:

You also have the option of doing sleep studies at home, with a device we provide you. 

Your doctor creates a personalized treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms and your specific diagnosis. Our array of treatments ranges from cognitive behavioral therapy — especially important if you’re having sleep issues and depression — and medication to treat insomnia, to counseling you on proper sleep hygiene.If you suffer with OSA, we can provide you with a game-changing continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, so you can breathe easy again — and say “farewell” to depression from lack of high-quality rest. 

Call us at our Pasadena or Pearland office to schedule a consultation about your sleep problems and depression, or book one online



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