There is a strong relationship between insomnia and depression. One study found that two-thirds of individuals with major depressive disorder also met criteria for insomnia, while another found that insomnia can double the risk of developing depression.
Although insomnia and depression appear to be closely linked, we still don’t fully understand why this relationship exists. Since a lack of social and emotional support has been linked to poor sleep quality and depression risk, researchers set out to identify whether varying levels of social support influence the relationship between insomnia and depression. Their findings were published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine in 2017.
In the study, researchers recruited 115 female students and asked them to complete questionnaires to determine insomnia severity, depression, and perceived levels of social support.
The study found that higher levels of social support reduced the effect of insomnia on depression. This led researchers to suggest that low social support could be one way that insomnia increases depression risk.
Why is social support helpful?
Researchers suggested that higher levels of social support may help prevent insomnia from leading to depression due to the way stress affects the mind and body.
Activation of the body’s stress response (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) has been associated with both insomnia and depression. As pointed out by the authors of this study, research has found that social support can reduce the impact of stress and decrease activation of the stress response system — and this may explain why higher levels of social support are of particular importance to insomnia sufferers.
Finally, simply having someone to talk to can help relieve the burden of prolonged sleep deprivation. As the saying goes: “A problem shared is a problem halved!”
Sleep deprivation can make it harder to maintain friendships
It can be more difficult to process and interpret emotions when we are sleep deprived — and this can have a negative impact on social relationships and interactions. If we feel grouchy because we got another night of bad sleep, we might snap at friends or feel less empathy or compassion. If the effects of insomnia make us feel lousy, we may also deliberately avoid socializing. Both of these issues can lead to less social interaction and less social support — and this can make insomnia worse and even increase depression risk.
When investigating the effect of depression on insomnia, this study found that social support was not a significant factor. Researchers suggested that this may be because individuals with depression tend to already have low levels of social support. This further emphasizes the importance of maintaining friendships and continuing to socialize with friends when living with insomnia.
What to do when you don’t feel like socializing
Many insomnia sufferers deliberately limit socializing because they don’t have the energy to meet up with friends, or they feel that doing so in the evenings will interfere with their bedtime routine and make sleep more difficult.
This is understandable. However, by deliberately avoiding socializing with friends, insomnia sufferers are voluntarily giving insomnia the negative outcome they fear and may even be increasing their risk for depression.
As I explain in my insomnia sleep training course, it is important to avoid letting insomnia rule your life. Think of times when you’ve felt tired but have forced yourself to go out and meet up with friends. It’s likely that there were times when you did this and still managed to have moments of fun even when you felt tired.
When you avoid socializing, you are trading the potential of having a good time and increasing your levels of social support with another night of being stuck indoors doing nothing but worrying about sleep — and this only makes sleep even more difficult.
If you refuse to allow insomnia to control your life, you will learn that although things can be more difficult after repeated nights of poor sleep, you are still capable of having a good time. Furthermore, as this study has suggested, spending time with friends and enjoying social support comes with a number of benefits.
It’s important, therefore, to maintain your friendships and social-support structures. You may need to force yourself to say yes next time you are asked out. See it as an experiment to determine whether you are indeed capable of having a good time even when you’re sleep deprived. You may just surprise yourself!