If you’ve ever wondered if there is a link between depression and feeling tired, there is. Depression can cause debilitating fatigue symptoms and make the simplest activities, such as getting out of bed, too difficult to manage. In fact, according to a 2018 report, fatigue affects over 90 percent of people with major depressive disorder. If you are feeling depressed, please get in touch with a therapy matching service, like Advekit, today.
Unfortunately, lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of depression. People with depression are more likely to experience fatigue, and people with chronic fatigue syndrome are more likely to become depressed, creating a cycle that can be hard to break.
Depression is a complex disease with many possible and interlinked causes, including genetics, medical conditions, stressful life events, and brain chemistry. It can be challenging to tell the difference between everyday tiredness and depression-related fatigue. Though, depression is likely associated with changes in brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters play important roles in regulating energy levels, sleep, appetite, motivation, and pleasure. Fatigue and depression can look quite similar.
With both depression and fatigue, symptoms include low energy, low motivation, and anhedonia, or a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. One distinguishing factor can be the desire to engage in activities — people who have fatigue wish to do things, but lack energy, whereas people with depression have lower interest in activities. It’s also important to consider the duration of the low mood and if it improves with sleep. A single good night's sleep can improve a tired person's mood, but depression-related fatigue permeates every facet of a person's life.
Physically with depression-related fatigue, everyday tasks — eating, showering, getting dressed, and so on — may become difficult. The body can even feel heavy, slow, and stiff due to depression. Focus also becomes extremely difficult, with an inability to sustain concentration or process information. A lack of sleep can have a similar cognitive impact, but again, a few nights of good sleep will make the brain fog lift with fatigue unrelated to depression.
How does depression affect the brain? Fatigue, caused by depression, makes it more difficult to untangle the already confusing thoughts and feelings that are part of depression. Forming emotional connections with friends, family, and the people around you may be more challenging when you're fatigued, and that can perpetuate feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Again, rest should alleviate these symptoms, but with depression it may not.
Potential causes of depression fatigue include a sleep problem, sleep disturbance, poor diet, stress, and even the medications used to treat clinical depression can make you feel tired as a side effect.
Sleep is a non-negotiable for staying healthy, mentally and physically. It is essential for regenerating the body and replenishing energy. Lack of sleep alone may not cause depression, but it does increase risk and can make existing depression symptoms worse.
Even if a person with depression is getting enough hours of sleep at night, they may not wake up feeling refreshed because the quality of sleep is often lower than that experienced by a person who does not have depression.
Research shows that many people with major depression and other mental health conditions, such as bipolar mood disorder, experience both insomnia and hypersomnia. Insomnia means having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Hypersomnia refers to excessive sleepiness. If you’re unclear about what is bipolar depression, we’ve written about it in detail.
Obstructive sleep apnea is another sleep disorder that has links with depression. One 2015 study found that depression is common in people with sleep apnea and that it affects the severity of sleep apnea. Furthermore, the study found that treating the sleep apnea improved depression symptoms.
There has long been speculation about whether diet affects mental health. One recent meta-analysis looked at multiple studies for a link between diet and depression risk. The report found some evidence that higher quality diets, such as those that include anti-inflammatory foods, may lower some people’s risk for depression. However, more research needs to be done.
A second meta-analysis also associated specific diet patterns with an increased risk for depression. In particular, researchers found that Western-style diets containing red meat, processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and other unhealthful foods may increase the risk for symptoms of depression in some people.
Stress can wreak havoc on all parts of your life. It affects levels of serotonin and dopamine, chemicals in the brain that play an essential part in regulating mood and energy. Research indicates that stressful life events can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing major depressive episode disorder. These stressful life events can include the end of a relationship or close friendship, death of a loved one, significant financial loss, job changes, and health-related events, such as a cancer diagnosis.
Stress can also cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to hypersomnia and fatigue, which may cause a person to withdraw from social activities and have trouble thinking clearly.
Antidepressant medication works by acting on the brain’s neurotransmitters to help them do a better job of regulating a person’s mood. Some antidepressants, however, can cause significant fatigue.
Adults should sleep seven hours a day or more, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For people with severe depression, that task may be challenging, as they often have trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, or both. People with depression may experience less slow wave — or deep — sleep. This results in sleep that’s less restful and restorative. Plus, people who are depressed can engage in maladaptive behaviors that contribute to poor sleep. For instance, depression-related fatigue can lead to someone taking a nap, which will only make falling asleep at night more challenging.
Staying active may be hard for someone with depression, but in fact, getting some physical activity each day may even help achieve sleep better at night. Plus, if you are wondering, “Why do I get depressed at night?” exhausting yourself during the day might help you fall asleep faster.
Whether you’re fatigued or experiencing exhaustion from depression, there are ways to make sure you get the best sleep possible.
Set a bedtime and desired wake up for each day, and try to stay with it. Not following a sleep routine is linked with obesity, hypertension, and other poor health outcomes. Plus, sticking with a schedule makes it easier for you to fall asleep and wake up each day, per the National Sleep Foundation.
This one is very hard in today’s world, but try to avoid screens in the bedroom before trying to fall asleep. That means don't use your phone as an alarm clock, or scroll through social media before going to sleep. Be screen-free for at least an hour prior to bedtime, because the light from screens can interfere with the body's natural production of melatonin which helps with sleep.
Exercising regularly can make sure you are releasing stress, tension, and good endorphins that improve mood. It also helps you to be more tired when it comes to sleeping at night. If possible, try to schedule morning exercise because working out early in the day helps with mood and sleep, and it ensures it gets done. Avoid high-intensity nighttime workouts, which may interfere with rest with that endorphin rush.
In general, a healthy clean diet with moderation in fats and sugar will make you feel better, and thus sleep better. Specifically, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol for a period of time to see if that improves fatigue. Caffeine will keep you up, and alcohol has been proven to worsen sleep and depression symptoms.
If trying to remedy fatigue isn’t happening through lifestyle changes and a few nights of solid sleep, it might be time to talk to your doctor, who can help confirm there isn't another issue interfering with your sleep. Fatigue can be a symptom of untreated or partially treated depression, or it can be a medication side effect, so definitely reach out if you are on antidepressants or any other medication.
If you’re looking for a therapist to help treat depression, Advekit can help get you matched today.