Curing insomnia cures depression

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds depressed people with insomnia improve when treatment is focused on curing insomnia.

New findings show sleep and depression are very closely related. How curing insomnia could also cure depression is uncovered by researchers.


If you are suffering from depression and insomnia at the same time, curing your insomnia may make your depression disappear completely, according to a new study from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Researchers for the study found that using talk therapy instead of sleep medications to treat insomnia in depressed participants could not only cure their sleep problem, but also double their chances of fully recovering from their mood disorder.

The study is the first in a series of similar studies on insomnia and depression being conducted at Ryerson University that are scheduled for release during the upcoming year.

Although scientists have long known that sleep problems and depression often go hand-in-hand, the most common theory was that depression was the cause of insomnia. But that view is changing, as new research suggests that sleep problems may be the culprit that leads to depression.

More research is needed to confirm the findings of this latest study, and if they do, it could lead to a significant shift in the treatment of depression. Indeed, according to The New York Times, such a shift could potentially become that greatest advancement in the treatment of depression since Prozac hit the market in 1987.

Lead study author Colleen Carney believes the findings reveal a need to begin adding a cure for insomnia to the traditional treatment for depression.

The study, which the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health funded, involved 66 depressed participants who were treated for insomnia without any drugs – just talk therapy, with only four sessions of talk therapy over a period of eight weeks.


The participants had to follow specific instructions for the talk therapy sessions like setting the alarm clock for waking up at the same time and sticking to it; getting out of bed when they couldn’t sleep without eating or reading or watching TV; and not taking any naps during the daytime.

The participants were also required to have experienced a loss of sleep for a month so significant that it negatively impaired their functioning at work and in their relationships with family and others.

Among the participants who responded well to this talk therapy for insomnia, an astonishing 90 percent also experienced the disappearance of their depression – regardless of whether they were on an antidepressant or placebo afterward for two months. That’s about twice as many as the participants who continued to struggle with insomnia following talk therapy.

Because both depression and sleep problems commonly co-exist at the same time, figuring out which comes first is kind of like the proverbial question: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

On the one hand, there is research to support that at least for some individuals insomnia comes first, followed a few years later by depression. However, interpreting what this research means could result in one of two different findings.

One interpretation could be that insomnia leads to depression, whereas another could mean that the depression is already there; thus, the insomnia is actually an early symptom of depression.

This new study could provide a more definitive answer regarding the cause and effect of these two different, yet interactive disorders.

More importantly, the findings of the study at least offer hope to the millions of individuals who are suffering from a state of hopelessness that is often the very definition of depression. And over 50% of them also struggle with sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

SOURCE: Ryerson University, Toronto. Research and Innovation, Health and Wellbeing (2013).


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