Lack of sleep and depression: which is the cause and which the effect?

by Martin

in Causes of Depression, Depression News

An interesting report on lack of sleep and depression caught my eye today.

Insomnia is often cited as a symptom of severe depression, but is not usually said to be involved in causing depression.

Although there was some earlier research from the University of Western Australia, which I looked at here on, which did suggest that possibility.

The report on PR Newswire that set me thinking, cites new research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology by Peter Meerlo, Ph.D., from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Dr Meerlo’s research found “significant changes in brain structure and responses in sleep-deprived rats, which mimic the changes seen in the brains of people experiencing depression.”

According the PR Newswire report:

“For a long time, sleep problems have been viewed as a consequence of depression. What we’re showing is that in some cases, sleep problems may be causing depressive symptoms,” said Peter Meerlo, Ph.D., University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “We may need to think about addressing sleep problems independent of the mood disturbances in patients with depression.”

Meerlo looked at how sleep loss impacts specific neural circuits and chemical responses associated with depression. They found that after one week of only four hours of sleep a day, the rats demonstrated reduced sensitivity in the areas of the brain that regulate neurotransmitters and hormones associated with mood disorders.

Dr. Meerlo and his team measured the magnitude of physiological changes in response to a serotonergic injection as an indication of the sensitivity of the serotonergic system, which regulates mood in the body. At one week and one month, researchers observed a diminished response similar to that seen in people with depression, a sign that their brains were less efficient in transmitting serotonin signals.

This comes as no surprise to me, based on what I have observed of my own moods.

I’ve created a short video in which you can see my Optimism mood charts for a period in October. Here you can see records for each day showing fluctuations in my mood together with amount and quality of my sleep.

Check it out to see if you think there is any relationship between the two and please let me know your views in the comments.

The relationship between lack of sleep and depression


American College of Neuropsychopharmacology;

Peter Meerlo Ph.D., University of Groningen;

Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

Optimism mood chart software

Main Image: Wake up Everybody acrylic on canvas, 105cm x 105cm, by Martin Grover.

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About the Author

Father, husband, writer and website publisher, discontented in his day-job, he writes here about depression - his own and in general. You can follow Too Depressed on Twitter. Please share the content on this site with all your friends, followers and contacts using the buttons above.

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Last revised on February 8, 2013

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