Imagine waking up feeling exhausted and miserable, worse than when you went to bed, too depressed to want to do anything? That is what depression feels like.
It begins after a period of excessive worrying that is connected in some way with the person’s failure to get one or more of their essential emotional needs met. As well as having a low mood and taking no pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable, the depressed person typically experiences the following symptoms: difficulty getting off to sleep because worrying thoughts are going round and round in your mind; waking up exhausted, often early in the morning; a change in eating patterns; constant feelings of tiredness and a loss of motivation. The resulting feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion and apathy give the depressed person even more to worry about and might even lead to suicidal thoughts, which exacerbate the situation.
For many years one fact puzzled scientists; the finding that depressed people have proportionally more REM sleep than non-depressed people, and that their REM sleep was more intense. These symptoms are all characteristic of the effects of too much pressure put on the REM sleep process as it tries to de-arouse the endless stream of worries that were not acted upon, or resolved in some way, during the day before.
Incessant worrying about something that can’t be immediately solved generates unresolved emotional arousal that has to be deactivated in order to complete the biological arousal/dearousal circuit in our brains. If action is not taken during the day to dearouse the autonomic nervous system, it is done metaphorically by dreaming.
The consequential imbalance between REM sleep and recuperative slow wave sleep causes the symptoms. (Waking up early, for example, is a sort of survival mechanism for your brain, a response to energy depletion in the glial cells which are not getting enough sugar to compensate for the energy being used up by excessive dreaming.)
When you wake up feeling like this — not refreshed and with no motivation — it’s because your brain is exhausted from too much REM sleep and not enough slow wave sleep to reenergize it. The sleep pattern is unbalanced, which is why we can say that depression is a REM sleep disorder.
Depression is physically exhausting due to the decreased amount of restorative slow-wave sleep, and mentally exhausting due to the increased firing of the orientation response (which is linked to our motivation and attention capacities) during dreaming.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, we recommend you read How to lift depression … fast by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell. Written clearly, without jargon, this self-help book contains lots of practical information about what depression is and how best to lift it. It has already helped thousands of people.
"Joe Griffin's key insight …
that] weekly excavation of your painful
past in an attempt to understand your present depression has never seemed
so foolish. There is a new King in the
sacred grove [of psychology]."