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Am I Tired or Depressed?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

We all could use a bit more sleep; however, when that's not an option, the similarities between sleep deprivation and depression can be very similar.

For this article, I've collaborated with Robbenmarie, a licensed counselor in New Jersey, to discuss the signs you should be looking for to easily spot the signs of sleep deprivation and depression.

It’s important to know the difference in conditions before seeking the appropriate help.

Let’s uncover the facts between depression and sleep deprivation. Shall we?

“Is there a difference between being sleep deprived and depression?”

“Yes, there is,” says Robbenmarie. She explains how depression is a mood disorder which involves a chemical disorder in your brain. There could be a lack of chemical production, therefore causing your depression. On the other hand, sleep deprivation can be a result of something in your environment. Whether that be allergies, sickness, stress, etc.

“What kind of signs will your body give you when you are sleep deprived?”

“The most obvious sign is being tired during the day. We naturally want to sleep during the night and be awake during the day. People with sleep deprivation would feel tired when they normally wouldn’t,” explains Robbenmarie. “That’s different from people who are depressed. They tend to feel fatigued all the time. Look for signs such as yawning or rubbing of the eyes.”

However, there are some characteristics that are similar.

“Irritability, the making of bad decisions or not being able to make a decision, decreased attention span, engaging in riskier behavior, memory relapses, lack of motivation, are common signs of depression and sleep deprivation.”

“How about some signs of depression,” I ask.

“As stated, the biggest thing with depression is lack of motivation. With sleep deprivation, whether someone sleeps for one hour or no hours at night, they’ll have no interest in doing anything, because they’re tired. The fatigue will last all day. On the flip side, depression fatigue is 24/7. It’s fatigue that is not curable with a good night’s sleep.”

“Are the signs different for women and men?”

“They are generally the same. Some issues with sleep deprivation is the lack of sex drive, there may be a difficulty losing weight. Women tend to hold on to their weight more than men, so that could be a difference.”

“Are there any benefits from maintaining a healthy sleep cycle?”

Sure. There has been research on depression, when the researchers obtained the results from their subjects, they sometimes found insomnia. When the participants got good sleep, they’re mood increased. Decreasing when they don’t get a healthy amount of sleep. So, when you get a good amount of sleep, you are more productive.”

“Okay, now when someone’s mind is racing, it could be hard to get sleep. What advice can you give for someone dealing with this?” I ask.

“Look at sleep hygiene. Do you have an environment conducive to sleep? Do they have the TV, tablet or phone, running? If they are on their devices until they fall asleep, that is not giving the body an indicator of getting ready to go to sleep. Our brain can’t tell the difference between sunlight and phone light. ” she explains.

“Good sleep hygiene includes a routine to alert the brain that sleep is coming. Brushing teeth, getting in pajamas, etcetera. You can do meditation, yoga, read a book, so your brain knows it is time for sleep. And, when you go to sleep, it has to be dark.” says Robbenmarie.

I asked Robbenmarie what resources are available for someone struggling with depression or sleep deprivation. She says to start with your PCP (primary care physician) or family doctor because some doctors actually screen for depression. You can also make an appointment with a licensed therapist. Your doctor can also prescribe tests to indicate if you have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea. If that is the case, you may need a CPAP machine.

When asked if there are tests a doctor or therapist can prescribe to diagnose depression, Robbenmarie answered with:

“The easiest one is a PHQ-9. It is a 9 question screening for depression. That is the simplest one. People can download this test themselves. But, it’s important not to self diagnose. As the patient is working with a doctor or therapist, the professional can do more assessments. Therapists always ask how your sleep is. They always want to know just in case there is nothing alarming.”

“Last question, what are some treatment options for someone with depression, aside from medication?” I ask.

Therapy is helpful. But, you always want to see a doctor to rule out anything medical. Like a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea, narcolepsy, etcetera.”

She adds, “most people who go to therapy don't need medication. It's about working with a therapist to come up with a plan to avoid prescription drugs. Remember to get ready for sleep. It's often true that people are fighting sleep and for whatever reason, despite their body giving them signs that they are tired, they don’t want to get sleep.”

It is important to note that suicidal thoughts are a big part of depression. If you feel that you are going to harm yourself or others, it is advised you go to a mental health crisis center, or local emergency department. If you can’t get to a center, there are national helplines.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline - 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357)

Philadelphia Children’s Crisis Response Center

Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services

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