Sleep, Dreaming and Depression: the fine balance bewteen too much and too little

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Depression comes in a variety of colors and shapes.

When in comes to sleep, it can be associated both with excessive sleepiness (hypersomnia) or with difficulties in falling asleep or in sleeping continuously for a reasonable number of hours (insomnia). 

Altered sleep patterns are one of the key symptoms of depression, a box that most of us tick without asking further questions. In my case, the constant sleepiness and fatigue justified a 2 day sleep test which taught me what I already knew:

– I am naturally a “long sleeper”, i.e., I need 10 hours per night to feel rested

– have a short REM latency, meaning that I start dreaming shortly after falling asleep

– and I have more REM sleep than a normal person.

While I was probably born to be a long sleeper, the two latter come hand in hand with depression and result in very vivid dreaming. My sleep is not restful or refreshing, I remember my dreams almost every morning and often they are long and complex enough to write a small book. This could be fun and inspiring…and it is a source of some surreal conversations. However, in practical terms, it is basically like living two lives: it means having to deal with a lot of stressful situations that did not really happened, on top of every day (real) life. It is tiring, often overwhelming and disturbing. My most “epic dreams” are usually followed by a worsening in my mood and fatigue.

Although I know that I am not alone here, there little information published about this correlation and I had to work hard to convince my Dr that excessive dreaming (REM) and depression are closely linked in my case. If in one hand this helps me to understand my disease, on the other it has no practical implications: you need to treat depression to decrease REM % and increase latency, which in turn should contribute to improve depression. Confused? Here is the most recent explanation, in very simple terms:

 

“In some people who are depressed, it’s a good thing to suppress their REM [sleep] because REM is associated with specifically strengthening emotional memories, and in many cases negative memories. So there’s an idea that it might be that in people who have too much REM, as many depressed people do, these negative memories are getting over-strengthened, and that can actually be quite damaging and quite pathological.”

Dr. Penelope Lewis – Director of the Sleep and Memory Lab, University of Manchester, UK and author of “The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest”

How about you? Do you sleep and dream too much or too little?

 

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