The Exhausting Relationship Between Depression and Dreaming

March 19, 2016

As a psychotherapist, I am not the obvious first choice for someone suffering with depression. Psychology offers effective techniques, as well as a rebate, so it’s a solid place to start. The numerous depressed clients who have sought me out, however, are those who haven’t found relief in the mainstream frameworks, and have heard that I work with dreams.

There is an unfortunate relationship between depression and sleep cycles; one which all too often heightens suffering. Among other symptoms, dreams can be more intense, relentless and disturbing. Anti-depressants – which in many cases save and improve lives – also actively repress the REM cycle, and flatten out waking affect. The energy of these ‘missing’ emotions remains in the system, unprocessed, and can lead to breakthrough nightmares, or feelings of frustration.

A very hopeful body of research has been performed by Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, on the dreams of people living with depression. Like most other researchers, she found that dreams directly regulate mood, however her focus on depression also revealed that recovery or alleviation of symptoms can be predicted through the monitoring of dreams.

The following article, from my beloved Brain Pickings, will be of particular interest to those suffering with depression, and who want to understand what is going on in your minds at night, and why you often wake feeling so exhausted. Often this is blamed on intense dreaming, but it’s actually disturbances in other sleep phases that impact your body’s ability to rest and repair. When it comes to depression, research suggests that dreams are on your side.

The Science of Sleep: Dreaming, Depression, and How REM Sleep Regulates Negative Emotions


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