Sleep, stress, and depression

Depression is a complicated disorder. For example, some people experience depressive symptoms following stressful life events, but some do not. Similarly, some individuals experience depressive symptoms following a bad night of sleep, while others do not. In reality, there are many life factors that likely interact and contribute to depression.

In the current investigation, a group of researchers set out to see whether stressful life events and sleep disturbances were a combined predictor of depressive symptoms. In other words, might both factors be necessary for depression to develop, or might one of these factors be sufficient? 

This question was tested using a statistical test called a regression. Using this test, it can be determined whether factors lead to specific outcomes, either individually or in conjunction with another factor. Meanwhile, other factors that affect depression (such as diet and exercise) can be accounted for. Over 3500 young adults were included in the study.

Results showed both sleep disturbances and stressful life events were predictors of depressive symptoms. What’s more, these factors do “interact” to predict depression. In other words, if severe enough, sleep disturbances or stressful life events can individually induce depression. Also, if these factors occur together, they likely amplify each other. Thus, if someone has only a few stressful life events but they suffer from poor sleep, depressive symptoms may occur.

If you are somebody who suffers from sleep apnea, you might lack sleep on a daily basis. Therefore, these results are particularly important. For example, if you are experiencing stressful events, be sure to do your best to have a full night of sleep. Although easier said than done, if this can be accomplished, depressive symptoms may be warded off. What’s more, in times of stress, sticking to your treatment is imperative!


Source: Leggett, A., Burgard, S., & Zivin, K. (2015). The Impact of Sleep Disturbance on the Association Between Stressful Life Events and Depressive Symptoms. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, gbv072.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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