Strong links to depression

Do sleepless nights have you feeling depressed? Or is depression (or stress, or worry) causing you to toss and turn? Whatever the cause and effect, a new study from Washington State University confirms that more than half of people who complained to their doctors that they couldn’t sleep were diagnosed with a mental illness. Depression is the most common diagnosis for the sleepless set.

Researchers say that of the millions of people who complain of insomnia, fewer than 20 per cent of them actually have the condition. Insomnia is a specific sleep disorder where you only have difficulty falling asleep.

The surprising results of the study lie in the proportion of people (almost 60 percent of those complaining about sleeplessness) who were subsequently diagnosed with a “non-sleep related” mental illness. Of these patients, approximately 30 percent were diagnosed with depression, the researchers found. To put the figures in perspective, about 16 percent of those in the general population (and not reporting sleep problems) have some sort of mental illness.

“The key finding is that insomnia is a serious problem which should signal patients to seek medical advice in order to idtify the underlying cause of their sleeplessness,” says lead researcher Tracy L. Skaer. Skaer says that insomnia often masks other conditions, such as depression and other mental illnesses, or even pain caused by diseases like arthritis. The relationship between insomnia and depression really is an example of the old “chicken and egg” syndrome, and not worth dithering over. The upshot, Skaer says, is that people should take insomnia seriously.

“It could be a symptom of a very serious underlying problem,” she says. “If it remains persistent, seek advice from a healthcare professional.”

There are now a good variety of non-habit forming sleep aids available, both over the counter and by prescription. And a wide variety of treatments for depression you can consider in consultation with your doctor.