A new study published in an online supplement of the medical journal “Sleep” found that for every one-hour increase in sleep duration there was a 72 percent decrease in the likelihood of suicide risk in people with insomnia. Says primary author Linda Oliver, MA, clinical research coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania Behavioral Sleep Medicine Research Program in Philadelphia: “We were surprised by the strength of the association between sleep duration and suicide risk.”
I’m not at all surprised by those findings. If I had to name the component primarily responsible for landing me in a psych ward a few years ago, it was the sleep deprivation that followed the birth of my son. I’ve always regarded sleep as the cornerstone of mental health, and I always advise folks who are depressed to practice some sleep hygiene before they try on too many diagnoses.
Insomnia is more common than you think. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of adults report some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and 10 to 15 percent report chronic insomnia, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research.
The relationship between insomnia and mood disorders is complex because insomnia undoubtedly aggravates depression and anxiety, and vice versa. However, in some cases chronic insomnia can actually cause the mood disorder and is a major factor in the recurrence of depression and anxiety.
David N. Neubauer, M.D., M.A., associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, and author of “Understanding Sleeplessness: Perspectives on Insomnia,” was interviewed for a Johns Hopkins Bulletin. He explains the chicken-egg question of mood disorders and insomnia:
When surveying people who are depressed, we find that 80 percent experience sleeplessness, and it’s not only the classic early-morning awakening associated with depression, but rather all the possibilities, including difficulty falling asleep and middle-of-the-night awakenings. There is also the issue of severity: The more depressed someone is, the more likely it is that he or she will have sleep problems.
The converse is true, too. If a person suffers from insomnia, over time it creates a risk for developing a mood disorder such as major depression. There are several excellent observational studies that demonstrate the link between insomnia and the future risk of developing a mood disorder. The link is evident as quickly as one year after an episode of insomnia, and can last as long as decades.
In other words, chronic sleep deprivation may not only worsen mood disorders but also can interfere with effective treatment and increase the risk of recurrence.