Nightmares, Insomnia & Depression – Oh My!

Nightmares, Insomnia & Depression – Oh My!

How the three – nightmares, insomnia & depression – are intertwined

Sleep plays an important role your health and mood regulation. If you suffer from nightmares, it not only affects your sleeping life but your waking life as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, a nightmare is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear. Nightmares can cause anxiety about returning to sleep, which can spiral into a debilitating cycle. Nightmares can cause a lack of sleep, which in turn can cause a variety of issues including insomnia and depression. The same is also true reverse – insomnia and depression can cause nightmares. The three are often intertwined.

Nightmares and depression

During the 1970s, psychologists noted that people suffering from depression also reported more dreams than average. In fact, people who are clinically depressed may dream three or four times as much. The quality of REM sleep dreams is different too – more intense emotions, more negative themes, more nightmares, and more unpleasant dreams. In general. REM sleep is the time when your brain is most active during sleep, which is when your brain actively works to heal and replenish itself. These unpleasant dreams are often mixed with insomnia, leaving someone tired. 

Nightmares & insomnia and their effect on depression

Researchers at Tokyo Medical University in Japan investigated the influence of nightmares on depression, both independently and in conjunction with insomnia. They found nightmares can aggravate the symptoms of depression. They also learned that the joint presence of insomnia with nightmares had a significant effect on the severity of depression. 

As researchers work toward better understanding the links between insomnia and depression, it’s clear that a deeper understanding of sleep and its effect on mood regulation and mood disorder is needed as well.

If you suffer from insomnia and/or nightmares, there is no one simple solution – as you well know. But there are changes you can make. Try these tips to help you sleep better and wake up better rested:

  • Set an alarm for bed – Set an alarm as a reminder to start your nightly routine to help your body prepare for sleep. Going to bed at the same time each night trains your brain and body when to anticipate sleep, which will help you relax.
  • No nightcaps –Alcohol and sleep do not mix well. If you’re already having a hard time sleeping, a nightcap won’t help as alcohol can effect a person’s REM sleep cycle.
  • Stretch it out – Yoga is a great way to unwind and decompress at the end of the day. There are several simple positions you can do to help you relax before bed.
  • Caffeine – Just say no to that afternoon cup of coffee. It can feel like a great pick-me-up when that sluggish afternoon feeling hits, but that buzz lasts longer than you think and makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
  • Don’t lie in bed – If you can’t sleep, do something. Read a book. Write in a journal. Make a to-do list for the next day. Listen to soothing music.

If you are suffering from chronic nightmares or insomnia or symptoms of depression, know that you are not alone and a doctor can help. If you’re ready to find a sleep doctor, check out this list of sleep specialists for help in your area.