In Stress and Health

Are you depressed or just exhausted?

It’s pretty obvious when you’re sleep-deprived. The fogginess and fatigue in your body and mind are unmistakable. But how can you tell if you are just really tired, or if you are actually experiencing depression?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, 1 in 3 adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep. The CDCTrusted Source further reports that people who get less than seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to report 10 common chronic health conditions — including depression — than people who get more than seven hours.

The statistics for depression are equally as sobering. As many as 300 million people around the world receive diagnoses with depression, according to the World Health OrganizationTrusted Source. About 20 million people who have depression also have trouble with restless sleep and insomnia, reports the National Sleep Foundation.

People who are exhausted from lack of sleep can experience symptoms similar to depression, such as:

  • impaired concentration
  • loss of energy and motivation
  • irritability

However, people who have depression can have trouble with sleep, whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep, or finding themselves sleeping too much.

So, how can you tell the difference? Which issue came first? While it can be confusing, it turns out there are several ways to tell the two apart.

Sleep is the tip of the iceberg for your mind’s state. People find it much easier to notice sleep is off because it is objective, thus it truly opens the door to investigating if something else is wrong.

The main symptom of sleep deprivation, which seems obvious, is daytime sleepiness. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • increased appetite
  • fatigue
  • feeling “fuzzy” or forgetful
  • decreased libido
  • mood changes

On the other hand, signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • insomnia
  • decreased concentration
  • lack of energy
  • feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or both
  • thoughts of suicide

The line between depression and sleep deprivation can blur, depending on what you’re feeling and experiencing. A question lies in the root of the problem, and it has to do with your motivation.

If you are depressed, you are more likely to say they simply don’t care to do various activities, even pleasurable ones. Tired people often still have an interest to do things.

So, depression is more likely than not to have an effect on someone’s motivation — getting to the gym or dinner with friends, for example — and being sleep-deprived is more likely to affect your energy level or your physical ability to do the thing in question.

Another way to tell the difference between depression and sleep deprivation is the timing.

Depression is characterized by a time period of two or more weeks of a persistently low mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in doing things. It’s extreme, and it doesn’t let up after a few days.

Many psychiatric diagnoses cluster around a 4- to 14-day time span for any mood episode to count. Noting that symptoms may vary day to day, the other rule is that these mood symptoms are present more days than not during such a time.

If any concern stretches for about a week and has an impact on your quality of life, it’s probably a good idea to inform your doctor.

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