Depression can cause severe fatigue and make the simplest activities, such as getting out of bed, too difficult to manage.
In this article, learn about the link between depression and fatigue, and get some tips on how to cope.
People with depression are more likely to experience fatigue, and chronic fatigue can increase the risk of depression. This bidirectional relationship creates a cycle that can be hard to break.
Potential causes of depression fatigue include:
- sleep problems
- medications, including some for treating depression
We discuss each cause in more detail below.
Sleep is essential for regenerating the body and replenishing energy. Lack of sleep alone may not cause depression, but it does increase the risk and can make symptoms worse.
Even if a person with depression is getting enough sleep, they may not wake up feeling refreshed. People with depression often have a lower quality of sleep than those without this condition.
Insomnia means having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Hypersomnia refers to excessive sleepiness.
Obstructive sleep apnea is another sleep disorder that has links with depression. A 2015 study found that depression is common in people with sleep apnea and that it relates to the severity of sleep apnea.
Furthermore, the study found that treating sleep apnea improved depression symptoms.
Researchers have long speculated about whether diet affects mental health. A 2018 meta-analysis looked at multiple studies investigating the link between diet and depression risk.
The report found some evidence that diets that include more anti-inflammatory foods may lower some people’s risk for depression. However, more research is necessary to confirm these findings.
A second meta-analysis also associated specific dietary patterns with an increased risk for depression. In particular, the researchers found that Western-style diets containing red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets, high fat dairy, and other unhealthful foods may increase the risk for symptoms of depression in some people.
Research indicates that stressful life events can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing major depressive disorder.
These stressful life events can include the end of a relationship or close friendship, the death of a loved one, significant financial loss, a job change, and health-related events, such as a cancer diagnosis.
The same research suggests that stress can also cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to hypersomnia and fatigue. It may also lead to a person withdrawing from social activities and having difficulty thinking clearly.
Antidepressants work by acting on the brain’s neurotransmitters to help them regulate a person’s mood more effectively. Some antidepressants, however, can cause significant fatigue.
Chronic fatigue can lead to more severe depression and increased medical costs, according to a 2015 study. The study surveyed 1,982 people with depression, 653 of whom had significant fatigue.
The people with fatigue had greater severity of depression, pain, sleep problems, and anxiety than those without fatigue. They also reported using more medication, and their socioeconomic status appeared to be lower.
Ways to help manage depression fatigue include:
Talking to a doctor
The best way to deal with depression and fatigue is to speak with a doctor, if possible. While other coping methods can help, proper diagnosis and treatment are usually essential.
A doctor can also help determine whether the fatigue is due to another medical condition or whether it is a side effect of antidepressant medication.
If medication is the source of fatigue, switching to another antidepressant may help. The doctor may also recommend psychotherapy.
Being active can reduce fatigue by promoting better sleep. One meta-analysis found that doing more than 20 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise can increase energy and reduce fatigue.
Currently, physical activity guidelines in the United States recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week for adults. A person could divide this into, for example, 15 sessions of 10 minutes a week or 30 minutes on 5 days of the week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge people to follow these guidelines as far as they are able. They also recommend doing exercises that strengthen the muscles on 2 days each week.
Improving sleep quality
Practicing good sleep hygiene can help a person manage depression fatigue. Good sleep hygiene means putting certain practices in place to promote quality sleep.
Useful habits include:
- avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
- limiting daytime naps
- refraining from eating heavy meals too close to bedtime
- going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
- keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom
- exercising regularly
Eating a balanced diet
Low motivation and lack of appetite can make it challenging to eat well. However, a high intake of processed foods and foods with added fat and sugar may make symptoms worse, according to experts.
Eating foods that research has associated with regulating mood and increasing energy levels can help reduce fatigue. Foods that may help include:
- fruits and vegetables
- green tea
- olive oil
- whole grains
Foods to avoid or eat in moderation include:
- processed foods
- foods and drinks with added sugars
- foods with saturated fats
- red meat
- processed meats
- processed carbohydrates
Fresh foods that are high in antioxidants may not only boost a person’s physical health but also reduce their risk of depression.
People who experience fatigue due to depression should talk to their doctor.
Untreated fatigue can lead to various complications, including withdrawing from social and work commitments.
Doctors can help treat both depression and fatigue. They can also help a person make lifestyle changes to reduce their symptoms.