Photo of a woman looking depressed
Treating insomnia can make treatment for depression more effective

Treat insomnia to cure depression

21 November, 2013

Natural Health News — Doctors – and patients – have long known that sleep problems and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Most believe that depression is the cause of insomnia. But that view is changing, as new research suggests that sleep problems may be the culprit that leads to depression.

Recent research, presented ahead of publication at a conference of the Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies in Nashville, Tennessee,  suggests that adding a short course of cognitive behavior therapy to normal treatment for depression can help.

In the small study researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto taught 66 people with depression a number of CBT techniques for insomnia including:

  • Adopting a regular sleep-wake schedule. That means going to bed at the same time every night, even if you don’t feel tired and getting up at the same time each morning, whether or not you’ve slept well.
  • Getting out of bed if you are awake for more than a few minutes during the night.
  • Not taking naps during the day.
  • Refraining from activities such as watching TV, reading or eating in bed.

The study,  led by Dr. Colleen Carney, led to the eradication of depressive symptoms within eight weeks for 87% of the subjects. These results held true whether or not the subjects were also on antidepressant medication or a placebo pills suggesting that insomnia influences depression more strongly than may have been thought.

The findings are all the more startling given that the subjects had only four sessions of CBT-I, held biweekly. Says Dr. Carney, “I think we need to start augmenting standard depression treatment with therapy focused on insomnia”.

Dr. Carney admits that her study was small. However if confirmed by other studies it could lead to a significant shift in the treatment of depression. Some of that research is being done now by scientists at Stanford, Duke, and the University of Pittsburgh who also studying the link between insomnia and depression. Their findings should be published in 2014.

The rate of full recovery from depression for individuals who undergo both antidepressant medication and standard psychotherapy is about 40%. So the preliminary findings from the Canadian team suggest a practical direction for treatment for those struggling with depression who haven’t found either antidepressants and/or standard counselling (which doesn’t usually include help for insomnia) helpful.