Is It Just Insomnia or Depression?

Sometimes we all have issues with sleep but how do you know if you just have insomnia or depression? This articles takes a closer look at both conditions and indicates a way to understand which one you might have.

Just insomnia or depression?

Depression causes Sleeplessness

Sleeplessness also known as insonmia or sleep disturbance is one of the primary symptoms of major depressive disorder. This is why it is not suprising that people struggling with depression are likely to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. What makes it even more tricky is that sleep deprivation (insufficient sleep) can also lead to depressed mood, moodiness, and irritability. It can be difficult to decipher which came first, the depression or the sleep disturbance.

To understand more about sleeplessness, here are some of the symptoms of insomnia

Symptoms of Insomnia

The main symptom of sleeplessness is daytime sleepiness. This is natural as a result of poor night sleep, but other symptoms can include:

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Excessive yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Increased appetite
  • Feeling “fuzzy”
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Depressed mood
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness

How Insomnia Affects You

Lack of sleep weakens the brain. It affects both the prefrontal cortex’s (which helps for reasoning). It also weakens the ability to control the amygdala (emotions), making it difficult to process and cope with emotions. When the brain is deprived of adequate sleep, it struggles to concentrate and regulate growth and appetite. As a result, insomnia can have a profound effect on both the emotional and cognitive functioning of the brain. This results in bad moods, negative thinking, decreased empathy, and poor impulse control.

The good news is that sleeplessness can be treated, and getting on a regular sleep cycle can alleviate the above symptoms.

Treating Insomnia

Do you just fall asleep without any effort and always get enough sleep? You truly are blessed and you won’t know how precious this is until you start to labour before you can get to sleep!

Developing a good sleep hygiene will go a long way in helping you maintain your sleep pattern. People accumulate sleep debt when they lose a specified amount of sleep each night, and the only way to repay that debt is to get more sleep.

Strategies to improve your sleep hygiene

Here are some things you can do to improve your sleep pattern and get a more stable sleep.

  • Set a specific schedule for sleep and wake times, including weekends and vacations
  • Go to bed when tired
  • Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed
  • Engage in daily exercise
  • If unable to sleep after twenty minutes, go to another room to read until sleepy
  • Avoid using any electronics in the bedroom
  • Turn off electronics one hour before bed
  • Keep the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool

Symptoms of depression

Given that aim of this article is to let you know if you are experiencing just insomnia or depression, it is necessary to highlight a few symptoms of depression.

Depression often includes insomnia, and sleeplessness can actually trigger a depressed mood, you can see why it’s difficult to differentiate the two. The essential feature of depression, however, includes a period of time in which there is at least two weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or significant weight gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Psychomotor changes (agitation or retardation)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decision nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation (with or without a plan)

Insomnia or Depression – Which One Is It?

So insomnia or depression which is it? You now know their symptoms which are somewhat intertwined but a few things can help you decide correctly.

Symptoms of depression can cause significant distress in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning and the emotional symptoms that accompany it are far more significant than just being moody from fatigue and not sleeping. Depression also might sometimes include thoughts of suicide, feelings of helplessness or worthlessness, and excessive feelings of guilt which can make it difficult to get some sleep and get out of bed when you eventually do sleep and wake up.

Similarly, insomnia will cause milder emotional symptoms compared to depression. It may also cause difficulty concentrating when you feel your head heavy and sometimes if you do attempt to read for example, you would notice you are just staring on a single page for quite some time and not assimilating at all. If this is the case, you might just be suffering from sleep debt that is likely due to just insomnia or sleep deprivation.

Insomnia can be treated

The good thing is that although sleep debt can be dangerous (especially when driving a car when you dont sleep, for example),you can recover with proper sleep hygiene and stress reduction techniques.
Major depressive disorder, on the other hand, can significantly impair functioning and requires musc more treatment and attention than just proper sleep hygiene and stress reduction.

A depressed mood that lasts two weeks or longer is a red flag to seek help from a licensed mental health practitioner. If you or a loved one experiences suicidal thoughts, dial 911 or go the nearest emergency room for an evaluation.

Whether, you just have insomnia or your sleep problems are as a result of depression, watch this video from University of Maryland where ways to beat insomnia are discussed.

Learn more

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 160-168.

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