In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not uncommon for people to feel fatigued, and to chalk it up to simply working too many hours and sleeping too little.
Since depression often interrupts sleep habits, a sufferer may not even realize that his or her fatigue is related to an illness until other symptoms start to emerge. It’s important to recognize that constantly feeling tired and sleeping poorly is not normal, and that there are ways to improve sleep—even if your fatigue is caused by an underlying problem such as depression.
Tired vs. Depressed
Depressed patients often report feeling disconnected from everything, with a lack of enthusiasm for the things they once held so dear. Feeling constantly tired is a common, if unhealthy, part of a too-busy life, but feeling listless and apathetic for weeks, months, or years at a time can be a sign of depression.
Sleepiness can also play a part in aggravating the symptoms of depression, as patients can suffer insomnia or interrupted sleep on a regular basis. This naturally would lead to a feeling of constant fatigue, but it can also exacerbate depression symptoms, as lack of sleep eventually takes a toll on the mind and body.
If you’re suffering from insomnia, be sure to mention your depression symptoms to your doctor along with your sleep troubles, and vice versa—when discussing depression with your doctor, be sure to bring up your sleep problems.
A Vicious Cycle
A European study showed that depression and fatigue fuel each other in a vicious cycle, with patients suffering from depression being four times more likely to suffer fatigue. Patients suffering from fatigue are three times more likely to become depressed. While the researchers were quick to point out that the two conditions have separate causes, they appear to feed off of each other in a cycle that can be difficult to break.
For patients suffering fatigue and/or depression, exercise may help. Since physical activity has been proven to help ease the symptoms of both conditions—exercise is thought to release endorphins, which can positively alter your brain chemistry, in addition to many other benefits. It may help break the cycle.
Effects of Fatigue
Over time, fatigue can have a negative impact on brain chemistry. Researchers have, in fact, found a noticeable drop in activity in the frontal lobes of the brain in overly tired patients. The study showed a drop in hormone secretion, with patients suffering a noticeable decrease in cognitive ability over time.
Depression has been linked to a reduction in the size of the hippocampal region of the brain, but that region of the brain remained the same in tests of the effects of fatigue.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Depression
Chronic fatigue syndrome can often go undiagnosed, as it shares many of the symptoms of and tends to coexist with depression.
The difference between chronic fatigue syndrome and depression is that with chronic fatigue syndrome, patients do not have thoughts of suicide. But since fatigue can often cause depression and depression can often cause fatigue, both conditions often exist together to various degrees.
In a study of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, researchers found that thirty-six percent of those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) also suffered depression, with self-esteem being lower in CFS patients who were also depressed. Depression incidents were higher in female patients, as well as in lower income patients and those for whom pain limited physical activity.
This brought to the scientific community’s attention the correlation between CFS and depression and made it clear that physicians should watch for signs of depression among patients with CFS.
Fatigue and depression can exist in an endless cycle that may seem unbreakable, but by treating both conditions and exerting more physical activity, patients may be able to lessen symptoms of both fatigue and depression.
Most of all, research lets the medical community know that both conditions do often exist together and should be treated simultaneously.