We probably all have first hand knowledge of how a bad night's sleep can affect us the next day: we're irritable, in a bad mood, and it can be hard to concentrate. It may not be all that surprising then, that how we sleep can be a very big part of depressive disorders, an incredibly interesting topic covered by Dr. Roseanne Armitage in the most recent installment of the IWHR's Women's Health Research Monthly Forum.

Dr. Roseanne Armitage Photo:www.med.umich.edu

Dr. Roseanne Armitage

Dr. Armitage began her talk by discussing how men and women, even those who do not have depression, sleep in very different ways. Possibly because of the different numbers of hormone receptors  or the over 650 genes that are expressed differently in the brains of males and females, the types of sleep we have also differs. For example, before puberty, boys have more slow wave sleep (stage 3 and 4 sleep, the deep, restorative kind that makes you feel refreshed in the morning) than girls do. After puberty, this changes, and girls are the lucky receivers of more slow wave sleep. Most interestingly, while men have a very slow loss of the amount of slow wave sleep over their lifetimes, women's amount stays relatively level and then drops precipitously during the peri-menopausal years. This is one reason why menopausal women really notice the sudden change in their sleep patterns. In general, women are also more likely to suffer from insomnia and sleep fragmentation than men.

The depression that Dr. Armitage really focused on was untreated MDD (major depressive disorder). MDD is twice as likely to occur in women than in men. Social withdrawal and feelings of worthlessness and guilt are more common in females with depression than in males with depression, who tend to complain more of lack of goal-oriented behavior. Around 80% of people with MDD report sleep problems, and for many people, sleep disturbance is the first presenting symptom of MDD. In adults with MDD, there are increased arousals and episodes of wakefulness, increased stage 1 sleep (the very light sleep), decreased total sleep time, and decreased stage 3 and 4 sleep.

Depression further exacerbates the sex differences in sleep between men and women when faced with a serious change to their normal sleep patterns (such as being asked to stay up for 40 hours consecutively), women with MDD overresponded, staying in slow wave sleep for too long, while men with MDD underresponded.  Sleep in healthy adults also shows a high level of coherence, or a very close association in the activity patterns of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Women with MDD, however, have a lower coherence during their sleep than other healthy females, healthy males, AND males with MDD.

Dr. Armitage's work also demonstrates the ability to tie sleep disturbances to the likelihood of depression in very young girls. She finds that coherence scores can be a very good predictor of future depressive disorder; girls who were at high-risk for depression because their mothers were depressed demontrate lower coherence in their sleep...even before they have any sign or symptom of depression. Young girls in this high-risk group also had very disorganized sleep-activity patterns, even as disorganized as same aged girls who already suffered from depression. Shockingly, even babies (2 to 30 weeks) of depressed mothers take longer to fall asleep, have decreased total sleep time and sleep efficiency, and spend less time in bright light (known to produce necessary vitamins) than babies of non-depressed mothers.

Our thanks to Dr. Roseanne Armitage for such an eye-opening talk! We encourage you to look at some of Dr. Armitage's published work on the topic:



It's interesting to note, how much of an affect a pregnant women under stress and suffering from depression and bad sleeping patterns, can pass this bad mental state of mind onto their unborn child. A women's healthy mental state of mind, appears to be just as important, as her physical health to the unborn fetus.

Sleep deprivation effects people in many different ways, but the interesting thing is when we research the causes of the deprivation. I believe addictions to things like television, the internet, and many forms of technology are effecting people's sleep. I believe many of these things \over stimulate\ our human brains and it is hard for our brains to relax. Also unsettling situations in personal relationships can affect sleep as well. Natural medicines like Chamomile tea can help people to mentally relax as well.

I find it very interesting how babies as young as a few weeks can have sleep disturbances if their mother is depressed. This doesn't really surprise me though as babies have been apart of their mother for 9 months and are extremely close to them. Maybe it could be linked to the mother not being as responsive to the baby as well. For me, sleep is so important. The only time I do not get enough sleep or quality sleep is when I eat late or when I am stressed. Since being a mother I have really worked on this and always make sleep a priority. I have to when I spend the day chasing around a toddler!

I cannot remember the last time I had a good nights sleep. You are right about not being able to focus properly or depression. I get about 5 hours and cannot sleep any longer. Am tired most of the time with slight depression during the day when I am not working or keeping busy. Keep up the good information.

Most people just don’t understand the importance of getting enough rest. Getting enough sleep is just as important and getting a balanced diet. Not getting sleep, will eventually take it toll and cause many problems.

Interesting observation, one which i completely agree with. I found that without a good nights sleep i just can't function as well as i would like too, and then ontop of that we add into the mix some COFFEE and soda drinks which brings short term relief. But in the end leaves us feeling worse than before, My remedy for this is to use meditation. This can be extremely helpful in all areas of life, bringing it all back to the basics of human life - BREATH.

Both of my parents have got sleep problems, to the extent to where they both actually take to usage the aid of a machine while they sleep. This was the very interesting article. Who knew you could understand so a lot from the manner an person sleeps. Fortunately I haven’t experienced any rest problems myself.(at least to my know-how)At I know many probable causes if which always happens. Thanks for the information. Good post

My partner suffers badly from sleepliness and I referred her to this post. I just hope it helps her. Thanks for a good post.

I have always had trouble sleeping but when I reached perimenopause the problem became unbearable. I barely got 4 hours a night and often much less. I'd wake up at 4 am and couldn't get back to sleep no matter how exhausted I was. My doctor put me on the weakest estastil hormone patch and it helped a little, but I still needed sleeping pills a few times a week. After more than a year, I asked her to give me the stronger patch and this has helped quite a bit for sleeping through the night and being able to go back to sleep. I don't think I would still be alive if it wasn't for this patch. My immune system was very low and I was catching everything, plus I was exhausted all the time.

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In my research, I have found that many of the differences between loss of sleep between men vs women has been due to how they internalize their reactions to problems in their everyday life. Men seem to find it easier to let go of their day to day life before sleep, whereas women tend to take their problems to bed with them. Letting go is not something we have much control over and your article perhaps suggests why this is.

Since I started working on my home business my girlfriend and I have totally different sleep schedules. Your article really helps me understand how it effects our relationship. Thanks for sharing!!

This really is a awesome post, I'm happy I recently found. I have been trying to find guest writers for my blog so if you ever decide that's something you are interested in please feel free to contact me. I will be back to look at out more of your articles later!

Wow...babies of depressed mothers tend to get less sleep? Colicky babies tend to get less sleep to begin with, and colic and postpartum depressions often co-exist. So colic often contributes to depression, which decreases infant sleep - yikes :)

Your post is very informative, it,s true that stress really affects a woman when she is pregnant and much more after the baby is delivered. My wife and i experience a tremendous change dealing with that anxiety i think it is called postpartum depression..So guys out there you need to really understand your wife and give her all the love she deserves!

Thanks for the detailed explanations and solutions. After reading this article I found how I suffered and recovered from sleeping disorders and hypertension. When I thought that bad times, it still shocking me.

what an impressive article!! you guys describe some of the best points about how a person going through when he/she is really depressed, i really appreciate it and in future i will return again to get some more information about the particular topic.


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