Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Depression?

by | May 11, 2023

does sleep deprivation cause depression

Sleep and mental health are closely connected. When we don’t get enough sleep, it can significantly impact our mood, ability to think, and overall mental well-being. Depression is a severe mental health condition affecting millions worldwide, and sleep deprivation is regarded as a contributing factor. But does sleep deprivation actually cause depression? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation occurs when a person does not get enough sleep. The amount of sleep required varies from person to person, but most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can be acute or chronic, meaning it can be a short-term or long-term issue.

Sleep deprivation has many causes, including lifestyle factors, medical conditions, and sleep disorders.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors can significantly affect a person’s sleep. Some of the most common lifestyle factors that can cause sleep deprivation include:

  • Busy Schedules: People with busy schedules, long working hours, or multiple jobs may struggle to get enough sleep.
  • Electronic Devices: Electronic devices emit blue light that can interfere with sleep. Using electronic devices close to bedtime can delay sleep onset, making it harder to get the recommended amount of rest.
  • Caffeine and Alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol interferes with sleep. Consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep and leads to more fragmented sleep.
  • Lack of Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to poorer sleep quality. Exercising helps improve sleep by promoting the production of sleep-promoting hormones.

Medical Conditions

Several medical conditions can cause sleep deprivation, including:

  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition where a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, leading to fragmented sleep and daytime fatigue.
  • Chronic Pain: Chronic pain can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to sleep deprivation.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): GERD causes heartburn and discomfort, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can cause sleep disturbances, leading to sleep deprivation.

Sleep Disorders

Several sleep disorders can cause sleep deprivation, including:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is when a person has difficulty falling or staying asleep, leading to sleep deprivation.
  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly and uncontrollably during the day, leading to sleep deprivation at night.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): RLS is a condition where a person has an uncontrollable urge to move their legs, which can interfere with sleep.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It is often described as a “black dog” that follows sufferers around, making it difficult to function daily. Depression can range from mild to severe, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds.

Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Depression?

The link between sleep deprivation and depression is complex and not fully understood. However, studies have shown that people who consistently don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience symptoms of depression. 

One study found that people who slept less than 6 hours per night were at a higher risk of developing depression than those who slept 7-8 hours per night. Another study found that sleep deprivation can trigger the onset of depression in people who are already at risk.

One possible explanation for the link between sleep deprivation and depression is that lack of sleep disrupts the body’s natural rhythms, including the circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep-wake cycles. Disrupting these rhythms can lead to changes in brain chemistry, including a decrease in serotonin levels, which can affect mood and increase the risk of depression.

Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms that can contribute to depression. These symptoms include fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.

How to Improve Sleep and Prevent Depression

Sleep and mental health are intricately connected. Sleep is essential for maintaining good mental health because sleep disruption leads to various mental health issues, including depression. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or sleep deprivation, it’s vital to seek professional help. A healthcare provider can help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.

In general, taking steps to improve sleep hygiene helps prevent both sleep deprivation and depression. This includes:

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule
  • Creating a relaxing sleep environment
  • Limiting exposure to screens before bedtime
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime
  • Engaging in regular exercise

Below, we will briefly explain the above points:

1. Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule

Establishing a regular sleep schedule is one of the most important steps to improve your sleep hygiene. Going to bed and waking up simultaneously daily helps regulate your body’s internal clock and promotes better sleep. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and stick to a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends and holidays.

2. Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment

Your sleep environment significantly impacts your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out light, and consider using a white noise machine to drown out any disruptive sounds. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that support your sleep style and ensure your bedding is clean and fresh.

3. Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bedtime

The blue light emitted by electronic screens interferes with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and makes falling asleep harder. To promote better sleep, limit your exposure to screens for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, try reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.

4. Avoid Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol Close to Bedtime

Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. Avoid consuming caffeine or nicotine for at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Similarly, while alcohol may make you feel drowsy initially, it can disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to more fragmented sleep.

5. Engage in Regular Exercise

Regular exercise helps promote better sleep and improve mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, but be sure to finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. Exercise significantly relieves stress and anxiety, which are common contributors to sleep problems and depression.

6. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help reduce stress and promote better sleep. These techniques work by activating the body’s natural relaxation response, which helps to calm the mind and promote feelings of relaxation and tranquility.

7. Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling with sleep problems or symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek professional help. A healthcare provider will help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. Depending on your situation, this might include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.


The link between sleep deprivation and depression is complex and not fully understood, but studies have shown a significant correlation.  If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or sleep deprivation, it’s essential to seek professional help. Improving sleep hygiene practices helps prevent sleep deprivation and depression, leading to improved mental and physical health.

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