The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a serious illness that interferes with daily life. Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness. Believe it or not, hypersomnia and depression have a strong link. This is because chemicals in the brain play a role in both conditions. Some of the treatments for hypersomnia are the same as those for depression, making it possible to treat these problems with just one medication instead of multiple drugs. Learn more about the link between these disorders to better understand why people with depression are more likely to have hypersomnia than people without depression.
The Role of Neurotransmitters
The hypersomnia-depression connection starts in the brain, where neurotransmitters (chemicals) affect mood, sleep, body temperature, appetite and other body functions. Norepinephrine has a stimulant effect, so it can affect the amount of sleep you get, as well as the quality of your sleep. Serotonin produces feelings of happiness and well-being, so low levels of this neurotransmitter are linked to depression. Dopamine is also associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness, so low dopamine levels can play a role in depression and hypersomnia.
Depression and Hypersomnia
Depression is an illness that affects a person’s thoughts and mood. Depression can also have physical effects, such as excessive sleep, digestive problems, and persistent aches and pains. This condition may also cause loss of appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, anxiety, hopelessness, restlessness, irritability, sadness, helplessness and feelings of worthlessness. CBS News Healthwatch explains that hypersomnia is a medical disorder that causes excessive sleeping and extreme sleepiness that is not helped by taking naps during the day. People who have hypersomnia may also experience bouts of low energy, anxiety and memory problems.
Effects of Hypersomnia
Like other sleep disorders, hypersomnia can have serious effects on those who struggle with it every day. People with this disorder may have difficulty in social situations because they are compelled to sleep at inappropriate times. You may feel irritable because you are so tired, making it difficult to get along with others at work, school or home. Researchers from Toho University in Tokyo studied 185 patients with hypersomnia and narcolepsy. They concluded that severe sleepiness, combined with environmental and psychological variables, has a negative effect on quality of life for those with these sleep disorders. The results of this study appeared in the Dec 2011 online version of Sleep Medicine. Hypersomnia can also pose a threat to your physical safety, as driving or operating heavy equipment while fatigued both increase the risk for accidents and injuries. Research demonstrates that those with excessive daytime sleepiness have an impaired sustained attention to response task (SART). Researchers from Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands studied this response in 96 patients with diagnosed sleep disorders. The study investigators asked participants to withhold key presses to one in nine of 225 stimuli. The participants showed a marked impairment in their ability to provide the appropriate response. The results of this study appeared in the June 2011 Journal of Sleep Research.
The Depression-Hypersomnia Connection
There are two possible reasons why people with depression may also experience hypersomnia. One is that people with depression become exhausted at the thought of dealing with their lives. This makes them feel excessively sleepy on a regular basis. Research indicates that people with depression may also spend more time in the REM stage of sleep than in any other stage. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs, so it is not the most restful type of sleep. While those without depression may spend plenty of time in the stages of deep sleep, people with depression may go through the sleep cycle out of order and spend more time in REM sleep than in deep sleep. Researchers made this connection as early as the 1980s, when an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry discussed the fact that people with depression seem to have more eye movement during the REM stage of sleep.
Excessive sleepiness poses a definite risk to those who have hypersomnia and depression. Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that sleepiness impairs reaction time. The NHTSA also says that sleepiness makes it difficult to pay attention to what is going on around a vehicle. Short-term memory decreases, it takes longer to process information and it takes longer to respond to safety hazards. The same factors increase the risk of occupational injury and death in those who have hypersomnia.
If you struggle with the excessive sleepiness that sometimes accompanies depression, there are several treatments for hypersomnia that can improve your symptoms. MAO inhibitors inhibit the action of an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters. This prevents neurotransmitter levels from varying wildly and can help improve the symptoms of both depression and hypersomnia. Tricyclic antidepressants may also help combat the symptoms of these disorders. Antidepressants help balance the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which alleviates the symptoms of depression. Controlling these symptoms may help improve your hypersomnia symptoms as well.
If you have depression accompanied by hypersomnia, do not try to handle it alone. Your physician or a mental health professional can help you cope with your depression by prescribing medication or therapy. These health professionals can also monitor your hypersomnia and help you develop a treatment plan to keep the condition under control. By working with a health professional, you can keep your symptoms in check and may be able to avoid some of the complications associated with hypersomnia and depression.