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Can sleep deprivation cause depression?

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Most of us are familiar with the struggle of going to work after a night of poor sleep.

Sleep deprivation can cause exhaustion, headaches, difficulty focusing, and moodiness—and those are just the short-term effects.

As it turns out, prolonged lack of sleep can have even more insidious consequences for your mental health.

Linking Sleep and Mental Health

Research has shown that people with chronic insomnia may be significantly more likely to develop a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, than people without insomnia.

And, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues, inadequate sleep can potentially exacerbate existing symptoms you’re experiencing.

Historically, scientists have had a hard time pinning down mechanisms that account for the relationship between sleep deprivation and depression—although they do know that sleep is important for brain functions such as learning and memory, and that lack of sleep can slow down thought processes and reaction times.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the relationship between depression and sleep is bidirectional.

This means that in addition to insomnia having a causative effect on depression, depression in turn is often responsible for sleep issues, including both insomnia and/or oversleeping (more on this in a future blog!).

1907 Foundation Fellows Are Pioneering New Research on Sleep and Depression

While there’s still a lot we don’t know about sleep and mental health, 1907 Foundation Fellow Laura Lewis and her lab are closing the gap.

Recently, Lewis reviewed groundbreaking research that not only posits an explanation as to how sleep deprivation affects depression but also has implications for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Lewis’s theory revolves around the biological processes that occur within our brains when we sleep.

Like our muscles, our brains create metabolic waste throughout the day, waste that needs to be removed regularly in order for our brains to continue functioning normally.

Lewis believes that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which has been shown to flow through the brain in greater volumes when we sleep versus when we’re awake, may play a key role in the process of waste removal.

This theory is corroborated by scans that show increased amounts of that cellular waste product in the brains of sleep-deprived individuals.

Lewis’s research seeks to prove that too much buildup of that metabolic waste is what causes the brain to function suboptimally, resulting in the impaired cognitive function that we recognise as a symptom of sleep deprivation in the short term and, in the long term, depression.

Further, Lewis believes that prolonged buildup of that metabolic waste may be responsible for inflammation of the brain that can result in neurodegeneration.

To support Lewis’s work and other innovative fellows like her, consider donating to the 1907 Foundation’s research grants.

The 1907 Foundation is invested in the advancement of mental health research and innovation.

We seek to accelerate knowledge of Causes and Cures for people with mental illnesses via medical research funding and technological innovations.

We support young scientists with big ideas that go straight to the root of mental health issues.

We utilise a unique, cutting-edge method for determining funding that is both identity-blind and symptom-blind, enabling our experts to make funding decisions based solely on the science.

To help us answer the big questions, consider donating to our research grants or link with us on our socials and spread the word.

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