Discovery of a Neurological Link Between Depression and Sleep Disturbance
A NEURAL connection between depression and poor sleep quality has been identified for the first time by researchers from the University of Warwick, Warwick, UK alongside colleagues in China. The findings could provide the basis for the creation of targeted treatments that combats depression and improves sleep quality.
Around 75% of people with depression report that they have sleep disturbances, such as insomnia. Until now, however, no neurological mechanisms underpinning the link have been found. In this new study, the team analysed associations between different areas of the brain using data from approximately 10,000 individuals. In the brains of those with depressive symptoms, they discovered a strong link between three particular regions: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with short-term memory; the precuneus, an area linked to the self; and finally, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with negative emotion. They concluded that these functional connections are the neural basis for the relationship between depression and poor sleep quality because they cause depressed people to dwell on negative thoughts, disturbing their sleep.
“The understanding that we develop here is consistent with areas of the brain involved in short-term memory, the self, and negative emotion being highly connected in depression, and that this results in increased ruminating thoughts, which are at least part of the mechanism that impairs sleep quality,” explained Prof Jianfeng Feng, University of Warwick.
It is hoped this research will provide a platform for a better understanding of the neurological mechanisms of depression as well as provide potential treatment pathways for the condition. In particular, the team believe the findings add extra weight to the theory that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is a region that could be a target of new therapies.
Public Health Importance
With depression and sleep disorders experienced by a substantial proportion of the world’s population, the study could be of major importance to public health. Poor quality of sleep is thought to affect around one-third of the world’s population due to a variety of factors, including dependency on electronics and longer working hours. Additionally, major depressive disorders are estimated to affect roughly 3% of the world’s population.
James Coker, Reporter
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