The Link between Depression and Insomnia in Young Adults

by admin on October 3, 2012

A study published in the journal Sleep, the journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, tracked the 6-year mental developments of roughly 4,500 teenagers under the age of 18 and roughly 3,500 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Data was collected using interviews with the participants and the participants’ own self-reporting techniques. In this study, insomnia was defined as having daily, or near daily, difficulty falling asleep. The results suggest that young insomniacs under these conditions are more likely to:

  • Contemplate ideas of suicide and attempt to commit suicide.
  • Abuse alcohol, marijuana and more serious drugs like cocaine.
  • Develop mental health problems or experience heightened symptoms of existing mental problems.

In fact, the figures released say that a teenager who displays signs of insomnia is more than 2 times more likely to be depressed in their growing adolescent years than a comparable teenager who does not show signs of insomnia. If you know a teenager who has recently had trouble falling asleep, or a teenager who can’t seem to stay asleep during the night, there is a chance that a medical condition or a lifestyle habit is developing.

In the study, researchers found that depending on whether the teenager was male or female, different developments were more likely to occur. Teenage boys with insomnia tended to turn to alcohol and marijuana, while teenage girls tended to feel depressed. The discrepancy between the likelihoods of each sex amounted to nearly double in some cases.

Another study published about the same time as this study confirmed the findings. This extensive 20-year study was conducted in Europe. In addition to finding increased instances of depression and unstable behavior among insomniacs, the study also noted the general increase in chronic insomnia and one-month insomnia over time in patients who had had little or no symptoms prior.

The link between clinical depression and insomnia symptoms has been well researched by sleep experts, medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists alike. In fact, a link has been found among adolescent as well as adult patients. Insomnia, as with many sleep disorders, may greatly take away from a person’s quality of life and develop symptoms that would maybe even worsen as a result of the initial insomnia diagnosis, such as severe anxiety or depression that leads to suicide. While help can sometimes be found at a sleep center or counseling office, many cases of depression can become a life-long struggle.

The most key point of these studies’ results can be summed up by the suggestion that insomnia is not merely a symptom that depression is present, but that insomnia may be a premature sign that depression is developing in a young adult. Knowing this, parents and professionals will be able to better assist teenagers in coping with their condition. Moreover, parents who know that children who have trouble sleeping are more likely to be diagnosed with it later in life can look out for their children by recognizing the signs of depression.


Brandy M. Roane et al. “Adolescent Insomnia as a Risk Factor for Early Adult Depression and Substance AbuseSleep 2008;31(10):1351-1356. provides resources to those with debilitating sleep disorders. Whether you need information or a sleep study, aims to shed light on the sleep conditions that affect millions of people.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Bergstrom October 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Is there any way to tell how much of insomnia is caused by depression vs. how much depression is caused by insomnia? Seems to me it could go either way, and might be pretty tough to figure out which came first in any particular case.


Dr Sam Girgis October 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm

That’s a good question, Chris. It seems that they would be inter-related.


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