Can insomnia really cure depression?

The short answer is yes — but mostly no.

Although it’s counterintuitive, there is a therapeutic link between sleep deprivation and depression — but the benefit is very short term.

Sleep scientists recognize the beneficial effect of sleep deprivation on depression.  It has been well documented that a near sure-fire cure for the kind of post-partum depression often experienced by young mothers is to stay up all night, or at least the second half of the night.  In these cases, surprisingly, the results are fast and robust:  the depression lifts, but typically only for a day.  After a good nights’s sleep, depression returns.

Why is this?  There is a well known connection between depression and insomnia, but the direction of causality is not well established.  Are we depressed because we can’t sleep or is it we can’t sleep because we’re depressed?

And could it be that insomnia is a valiant attempt by the mind and body to heal itself by combating depression, even if the cure only lasts one day?

Because studies have shown 50 to 80% of depressed patients who improve with sleep deprivation relapse the next day, and sleep deprivation also has significant health costs over the long term, the general recommendation is not to use sleep deprivation as a method to address depression.  Instead, research is ongoing to discover more about how this relationship works.  There is still much to be learned.

Many psychologists take the position that depression and insomnia are two separate but overlapping conditions.  By treating them both, each improves.  Numerous studies show that depressed patients who are treated with antidepressant medication do much better when they learn cognitive-behavioral strategies for sleep improvement (CBT-I).

If you are having trouble sleeping, it would not be surprising if you also felt irritable and tired.  But if you think you may be at risk for more than the normal blues that we all feel from time to time, a checkup with your healthcare provider would be in order.

You can also find some reassurance that there are safe, effective, and completely drug-free methods to rid yourself of insomnia.  By doing so, you might find a whole lot more than your sleep improves.

Explore posts in the same categories: Depression, Health, Insomnia, sleep

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