Home Anxiety Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Severe Anxiety and Depression

Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Severe Anxiety and Depression


Studies on sleep deprivation have been conducted for decades. In fact, deprivation of sleep has been used as an interrogation technique by different world governments and organizations. However, the truth is that far too many adults suffer from lack of sleep that results in severe cases of anxiety and/or depression.

The CDC estimates that about 1 in 3 adults have a sleep disorder. Sleep restriction can have multiple causes, but the good news is that it can be treated. The first step in the treatment process is recognizing what is causing the lack of sleep.

What Causes Loss of Sleep?

Sleep restriction can be the result of many different factors, some of which co-occur. The most obvious culprits are sleep disorders such as insomnia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. alone suffer from sleep disorders. Whether or not these disorders are genetic, they are complicated by internal and external factors such as stress, a heavy workload, and deadlines. College students tend to experience elevated levels of sleep restriction as well as depression and/or anxiety because they have a lot of additional stress placed on them.

It is also theorized that physical and mental health conditions can cause sleep restrictions, which perpetuate these conditions even further. Those diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (BD) often have bouts of mania that are preceded by sleep disturbances like insomnia. Individuals with disorders that cause chronic fatigue often end up having their circadian rhythms disrupted, resulting in bouts of too much or too little sleep.

How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?

The average human will spend about 1/3 of their life asleep. According to a study conducted in 2015, most adults (between ages 18 and 64) function most optimally when they have gotten 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Older adults benefit from 7-8 hours of sleep.

Of course, not all adults have bodies that function the same way. Those with autoimmune disorders or any type of immunodeficiency might require more sleep than their cohorts. Sleep allows the body to recuperate, which is crucial for those dealing with these disorders. Read on, and you can find out more about how to get well-rested, including why it is important to sleep on your side.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Lead to Severe Anxiety and Depression?

A chronic lack of sleep leads to an allostatic overload within the human body. This not only results in appetite and caloric intake increases but, when chronic, it leads to increased obesity, cortisol levels, and a diminished volume in the temporal lobe of the brain (which is responsible for auditory processing).

Additionally, animal studies have discovered that disrupted sleep can cause excess stress on lobes of the brain responsible for emotions and memory, including the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. When these areas are impaired by a lack of sleep, aggressiveness and anxiety both increase while memory processing and retention decrease.

Melatonin plays a crucial role in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, and there is strong evidence that shows a disruption in the secretion of this peptide could cause shifts in sleeping phases and daytime drowsiness for the elderly and those with depression.

In those with sleep restrictions, significant changes are also reported in the body’s neuroendocrine stress systems and neurotransmitter receptors as well as a decrease in serotonin production, which is commonly linked with depression. In other words, chronic sleep loss may actually lead to depression or depression may lead to chronic sleep loss, depending on the individual. 

Ways to Get Better Sleep

Those who struggle with chronic sleep disturbances often have to take extra steps to ensure that they are well-rested. Sleeping on your side is beneficial in relieving insomnia and back pain. Those with chronic back pain can try sleeping on their side with a supportive pillow in between their legs for additional comfort.

Other positions can cause spinal discomfort and restrict the flow of breathing, which can certainly contribute to a lack of sleep. The nose should be aligned with the center of the body while sleeping on one side in order to get the best air flow and avoid back and neck pain.

Aside from changing your position, consider the environmental changes that can be made. Power off all electronic devices to get rid of that distracting blue or green glow. Those who find themselves constantly looking over at their alarm clocks should block their view of the time. Those with allergies should consider sealing their mattresses to keep nighttime coughs, sneezes, and sniffles at bay.

Finally, it is important to cut off caffeine consumption after 12 P.M. and to slow down on late-night snacks since the extra energy from food and caffeine can contribute to loss of sleep.


Sleep loss and anxiety and/or depression seem to be almost inextricably connected, so it is important to treat all symptoms, not just one or the other. Anyone who is experiencing chronic sleep restrictions and/or anxiety or depression should contact their doctor to learn more about how to take back their mental and physical health.