Depression & Sleep: Should we blame Edison or ourselves

Posted on February 7, 2014 · Posted in Sleep

By Dr. Charles Hodges 

Author of Good Mood Bad Mood

Light bulbs have become a modest fixation for me. I hate anything that approaches fluorescence with a passion. I grew up in an incandescent world courtesy of one of the world’s greatest inventors Thomas Edison. And, frankly I would have preferred to finish under the somewhat golden light of a glowing filament. Thanks to a government that outlawed my favorite light source, I have become a hoarder of incandescent bulbs. 

By now you are wondering what depression has to do with light bulbs and Tom Edison. The answer is that Edison made it economically practical to stay up long after dark. Our bodies are made to cycle up when the sun rises and cycle down when it sets. Edison made it possible for us to fight against our circadian rhythm. As I write this it is dark outside and if there weren’t twenty-three light bulbs over head and a big screen television in the corner, I would probably be asleep. And, that would be normal. 

What isn’t normal is that I will stay up and watch the 11:00pm news and then set my alarm for 5:45am to knock me out of bed so that I can get to work. That is 6hours and 15minutes of sleep and it isn’t enough. It is also may be a prescription for depression. 

In a couple of studies published in the journal Sleep, researchers looked at the relationship between the number of hours people sleep and their risk for depression. One study of 4100 subjects between the ages of 11 to 17 found that sleeping less than 6 hours increased their risk of depression. Another study of twins with a family history of depression found that sleeping a normal amount of 7 to 9 hours cut the risk of depression from 53% to 27%.

As we seek to help people who come for counseling with complaints of depression and anxiety, one of the most important questions we need to ask is “how much are you sleeping?” I routinely tell counselees and patients that I may not be able to tell them what is wrong with them unless they change their life habits and get 8 hours of sleep a night for at least 2 weeks. If they cannot do this on their own I send them to see their doctor for a good medical work up and appropriate medical care. 

Most of us do not sleep nearly enough. And, it generally is not because we could not if we allowed the time. We have become a people who routinely burn the candle at both ends. Maybe, we would all be in a better mood if we just turned the light off and went to bed earlier. 


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Good Mood, Bad Mood

Good Mood, Bad Mood

Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.