Having more vivid dreams or nightmares could be a sign of depression. With the right tools, you can improve your mood and sleep.
Sleep and mood are closely connected. You probably know what it’s like to toss and turn at night when you’re stressed or worried about something.
The opposite may also be true. After a sleepless night, you may feel more irritable, short-tempered, or stressed throughout the day. Once you get a good night’s sleep, you may find your mood improves.
You’re not alone.
For many people, poor sleep can cause irritability and stress. For some, such as those with chronic insomnia, it can lead to a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression, and vice versa. Having anxiety or depression can make it hard for you to sleep.
Depression may also affect your dreams, which can impact your sleep.
If you live with depression and find you dream more vividly or have bad dreams or nightmares, there are things you can do to help improve your mood, dreams, and sleep.
Research suggests your mental and emotional health may affect your dreams.
In fact, the review discussed how people with major depressive disorder reported experiencing nightmares more than two times (16.7%) as much as those without the condition (4.9%).
A 2021 study found that depression was higher among those who had nightmares than among those who didn’t. The study also shows that nightmares may be a sign of pre-existing depression.
You may find that you need only 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night to feel well-rested.
If you have depression, getting the recommended amount of sleep may be a challenge. Impaired sleep is both a contributing factor and a symptom of depression.
Depression and insomnia
Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping habit is a hallmark symptom of depression and many people with the condition experience it.
In fact, getting too much sleep (hypersomnia) or not enough (insomnia) is listed as a diagnostic criteria for depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text-revision (DSM-5-TR).
If you live with depression, you may have:
- irregular sleep (taking longer to fall asleep, waking too early, or waking on and off throughout the night)
- changes in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (the stage when most people dream — about an hour to an hour and a half after you fall asleep)
- impaired non-REM sleep (includes three stages — the last two are when you sleep deeply)
Depression and fatigue
There’s also a link between fatigue and depression.
Research from 2016 suggests that people who experience fatigue, and especially symptoms of insomnia and poor concentration, have an increased chance of depression.
And inadequate sleep can make you more tired or fatigued, causing a vicious cycle of fatigue impacting mood and mood impacting fatigue — all of which can affect your sleep.
If living with depression is impacting your dreams or making it hard to sleep and function during the day, there are treatments that can help you manage depression and improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
To manage depression:
Try to find a therapist who treats depression and sleep disorders
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, people with depression and insomnia who sleep at least 7 hours per night are more likely to benefit from combined insomnia and depression treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
A cognitive behavioral therapist may also use imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) to help manage your nightmares. This is a technique that helps you refute the nightmare and reduce its intensity to sleep better.
Some people find antidepressants helpful in managing depression and improving sleep.
Many antidepressants prescribed for depression also suppress REM sleep. A healthcare or mental health professional can tell you about the different types of antidepressants and any potential side effects.
To sleep more soundly:
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, including aerobic activity. Exercise helps increase feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. You may also find that you’re able to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
- Do your best to try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including weekends.
- Try to establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a bath and reading before turning in. Avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol at least 2 hours before going to sleep can also help improve your sleep.
- Try to set up an environment that’s inducive to a good night’s sleep. A dark room that’s cool and quiet can be soothing and relaxing. A fan or soundscape (from a sleep app on your phone) can help drown out excess noise.
- Consider using your bed for sleep and sex only. Try not to watch TV or use your phone, computer, or other electronic screens before going to bed. Instead, try reading a book, listening to soft music, or meditating.
- If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, consider getting out of bed and doing something relaxing, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Living with depression can affect your sleep, causing more vivid dreams or nightmares. Sleep problems, in turn, can affect your mood, making it difficult to function during the day and impacting your quality of life.
Most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you find you’re not getting restful sleep or having more vivid dreams or nightmares, there are treatments that can help. These include cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medication.
If you live with depression and are having trouble sleeping or your dreams are causing concern, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional for support. They can offer more insight on how to move forward, including if further evaluation is recommended.