Depression: Sleep debt takes its toll

Sleep problems and depression go hand in hand, says Martin Moore-Ede, head of Circadian Technologies, a consulting firm.

“Truckers obviously have chronic sleep problems and fatigue,” Moore-Ede says. “If there is over five years of chronic fatigue, then the incidence of clinical depression is two to three times higher. Depression cycles back and affects fatigue. It’s all tied together.”

Symptoms of sleep disorders are sleepiness, irritability, low motivation, low energy and weight gain, says Eileen Leary, project manager of SleepQuest, a sleep care provider and liaison to the Stanford Sleep Research Center in California. “These symptoms are very classic of depression,” Leary says.

Depression is worse when sleep is disrupted, Moore-Ede says. “If the body clock gets out of gear, it can cause depression in susceptible people,” he says.

SleepQuest has worked with carriers such as Dart and Star Transport on truckers’ sleep education and treatment. Moore-Ede says carriers participating in his fatigue management programs have cut accident rates as much as 80 percent.

Truckers are also more at risk for sleep-related depression because truckers have higher than normal rates of obstructive sleep apnea, perhaps the most common sleep disorder. It causes breathing to start and stop during sleep – often accompanied by terrible snoring. Men who are overweight, with thick necks or certain inherited features, are more likely to suffer.

Treatment requires the use of a continuous positive air pressure device. The patient wears a face mask attached to a machine that blows gentle air into the nose and keeps the airways open. Truckers can use an adapter that plugs into a cigarette lighter.

Sleep disorders aside, how can you tell the difference between depression and simply not getting enough sleep? “Two nights’ sleep is what the normal, healthy body needs to recover,” Moore-Ede says. “But if depression is the problem, you will still have the same depression even if you slept. Sleep won’t cure depression.”