Is It Depression or a Sleep Disorder? Review the Common Symptoms

Overlapping Symptoms May Delay a Diagnosis

Depression has common symptoms like fatigue and poor concentration that may overlap with sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia
Depression has common symptoms like fatigue and poor concentration that may overlap with sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia. Getty Images

Before chalking your mood problems up to depression, perhaps you should consider a sleep disorder. Mood and sleep walk hand in hand, with one often influencing the other. You might ask: Is it depression or a sleep disorder? What are the symptoms of depression? How might you learn if these symptoms are instead due to an underlying sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia? Discover how to distinguish these overlapping symptoms as different causes may lead to distinct treatments.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

Many common symptoms are used to identify someone with depression. These include:

  • Changes in sleep (sleeping more or sleeping less)

Someone with depression may spend much of the day sleeping, taking prolonged naps and finding sleep unrefreshing. Others alternatively may have increased difficulty sleeping at night, leading to symptoms of insomnia. Many people with depression also experience early morning awakenings

  • Decreased interest levels

In what is sometimes called apathy, someone who is depressed begins to lose interest in activities and pastimes that previously brought them pleasure. Work may not seem as fulfilling as it once did. Social activities, such as time spent with friends or even community organizations, may be avoided. This may lead to decreased time spent with others and more time being isolated at home.

  • Feelings of guilt

When mood suffers, people who are depressed begin to blame themselves.

They wish that they could just be normal again. They don't understand why they feel the way that they do, and they often struggle to provide explanation for their feelings that may be inconsistent with how their life is actually going. This may lead to feeling guilty, especially as the depression begins to limit activities.

  • Decreased energy levels

Many people with depression feel fatigued, tired, and have low energy. It can be difficult to summon the energy to do simple tasks, like going to the grocery store or work. This may be difficult to distinguish from sleep disorders that contribute to daytime sleepiness, such as sleep apnea

  • Poor concentration

​Depression begins to impact our concentration, attention, and short-term memory. Thinking becomes foggy. People with depression may seem inattentive and forgetful. This can affect learning and undermine work and school performance.

  • Changes in appetite (eating more or eating less)

Appetite can also be impacted by depression. Some people with depression will lose their appetite, eating less, and may begin to lose weight. Others may find that their appetite increases and this can lead to excessive caloric intake and weight gain. Changes in weight can impact body image issues, which might further worsen mood.

  • Increased psychomotor agitation (wringing hands, pacing, etc.)

It is possible for mood to begin to impact our physical state. This may be more apparent among someone with anxiety. For example, someone who is feeling anxious often looks anxious. They may be tapping their foot, wringing their hands, or begin pacing in the room.

It is also possible for depression to result in slowed physical movements, with delayed responses and slow-motion activities.

  • Thoughts of hurting oneself or others

Depression may be associated with thoughts of suicide. It can further manifest as thoughts of hurting someone else. If you experience these thoughts, talk to someone about them. These may be a warning that you need urgent help to improve your mood. Consider speaking with family, friends, or your primary care provider. Help can also be obtained by calling 911, going to the emergency department of a local hospital, or by calling a suicide prevention hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

  • Feeling depressed

Finally, the most obvious symptom of depression is simply feeling sad, down, blue, low, or depressed. This may be associated with excessive crying, anxiety, and irritability. 

How Do Sleep Disorders Differ from Depression?

Many of these symptoms overlap with common sleep disorders including sleep apnea, a circadian rhythm disorder like seasonal affective disorder, or insomnia. In fact, a sleep disorder often worsens mood and contributes to feeling depressed. It is important to recognize the symptoms of these other disorders:

In addition, there could be other medical problems contributing to feelings of depression such as hypothyroidism, which may be undiagnosed in 10% of Americans.

It may be difficult to distinguish a mood disorder from sleep problems. If you suspect you may have a sleep disorder, it may be time to get evaluated by a sleep specialist and undergo a sleep study. You may find that better sleep at night is just the thing you need to improve your mood.

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