As university students, we are often in multiple classes and have many other responsibilities, which may make it seem like there are not enough minutes in the day to accomplish everything we need to get done. Instead of sacrificing our favourite television shows or dinner out with friends, what many of us choose to cut from our day is precious sleep. Case-in-point, I spent the day at the Forks getting the last bit of skating in before they close the river trail down, and now it’s 2:30 in the morning, and here I am writing an article on the link between sleep deprivation and depression.
With various deadlines and last minute cramming, our sleep routines often get messed up and we don’t get the amount of sleep we need to function at 100 per cent. In previous research, these factors have led to increased daytime sleepiness, which has been linked to high rates of depression. Researchers in Boston used these findings as a jumping off point into the relationship between diminished or delayed sleep and its correlation with specific symptoms of depression in the all female population at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass..
The study included data from 101 psychology students who filled out a number of self-reports, which measured relevant sleep information, including bedtime, number of naps per week and average amount of nightly sleep. Researchers compared these reports to self-reports measuring depression. Two measures for depression — the Depressive Tendency score and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D-3) depression score — were significantly correlated with a greater sleep debt, which accrues when the amount of sleep we need is less than the amount of sleep we get.
Results from the study also indicated that individuals who took in more than two caffeine drinks per day were more likely to go to bed later than 2 a.m., and were also more likely to nap more during the day. Of students who went to bed later than 2 a.m., there was a disproportionate amount of depression compared to those with earlier bedtimes. Since students still have to get up at about the same time daily, the later they go to bed, the more sleep debt accrues, and again, greater sleep debt increases the risk of depression.
The current study focused only on women, but previous studies have shown no difference in men and women’s depression response to diminished sleep. However, as with all studies that have a limited sample, we have to be careful in applying the results of this study to the general population. In addition, self-report measures aren’t flawless, and it may be prudent to look at any results gathered from self-reporting with a critical eye (See “Assessing your mental health with inkblots,” pg. 12).
This study confirms what I’m sure is well known among many of you reading this: many university students don’t get a healthy amount of sleep. By increasing the amount of sleep and having a more regulated sleep schedule, studies show that both mood and cognitive performance will improve. But with a larger sleep debt, catching up is not as easy as just sleeping in on weekends. In a recent 2007 study, after missing one complete night of sleep, it took at least one nine-hour nighttime sleep to recover the debt. Whereas after two nights of missing sleep, not even five nights with nine hours sleep is sufficient for recovering the debt. So, the longer you have gone without adequate amounts of sleep, the longer it will take to recover.
The next time you face the choice of going to bed, or staying up to watch Ghostbusters 2 for the 27th time, why not opt for the latter and work on reducing your sleep debt? In the long run, your performance and happiness will benefit from the extra shut-eye; I’m sure Dan Aykroyd won’t mind.