Poor REM sleep may increase depression risk: Study

Sleep is very important for everybody and its deprivation can lead to various problems, including mental and physical. A recent research, titled “Slow dissolving of emotional distress contributes to hyperarousal,” suggested that patients suffering from lack of sleep with bad or restless rapid eye movement (REM) may find it difficult to overcome “emotional distress,” thus increasing their chance of suffering from depression or anxiety.

Lead author of the study Rick Wassing, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sleep and Cognition in the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, said, “Previous studies have pointed to REM sleep as the most likely candidate involved in the regulation of emotions.”

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in February 2016, was carried out to find out if any potential link exists between REM sleep and regulation of emotions. The study was conducted in two phases on 1,200 members of the Netherlands Sleep Registry. The average age of the participants was 52.

The first part of the study required the participants to fill a questionnaire revolving around insomnia, thoughts during night, arousals and emotional distress. Nineteen women and 13 men, averaged 36 years of age, were recruited for the second part of the study.

Half of the participants, who had agreed to be a part of the study, suffered from insomnia whereas the rest complained of no such sleeping disorders. A two-night lab experiment was conducted in which the brains’ electrical activity was monitored via electroencephalography while they were asleep. Quality of REM sleep of the participants was compared by the researchers during the tests. The participants were then asked to fill a questionnaire about any troubling night time thoughts that crept into their minds while they slept.

‘Vicious cycle’ of insomnia

Based on the findings, it was concluded that those who suffered from disrupted REM sleep often found it difficult to deal with emotional distress. Based on the speculation that emotional distress may get accumulated due to interrupted REM sleep, Wassing said, “Current findings indicate that over time this accumulation eventually leads to a ‘vicious cycle’ of over arousal, during which insomnia promotes distress, which promotes arousal, which promotes ongoing insomnia.”

Wassing suggested that key hormones such as serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine are inactive while the REM is underway which, in turn, may indicate that the emotional impact of memories gets properly processed and resolved during a good REM sleep. The researchers inferred that feelings of arousal gradually rose with the piling up of distress making it difficult for one to get a good night’s sleep.

The research, conducted assuming that brain centers critical to learning faculty get affected by the quality of the REM sleep, has been described as a road map for further investigations to understand how sleep influences emotional regulation.

Recommending the stabilization of REM sleep as necessary to check emotional distress, Wassing indicated that there was a need to conduct further research into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a means to treat insomnia and poor sleeping disorders.

Getting relief

Sleep deprivation, even if partial, can affect the mood and the level of stress of a person. An anxious mind can increase arousal and the level of agitation, making sleep difficult with exaggerated response to stress, leading to behavioral problems in the long run.

If you or your loved one is feeling depressed, it’s time to seek treatment from a certified professional. Treatment should not be delayed and medication should start as early as possible. Call the Depression Treatment Helpline at 866-619-7729 today for the required support.