April 30th, 2008
10:21 AM ET

Insomnia and depression

By Yvonne Lee
CNN Medical Producer

The first time I began to associate sleeplessness with depression was after my aunt died. I was 8 years old and living in Los Angeles. My grandmother came to stay with us while the funeral preparations were made. I remember walking into my room and seeing her staring at the wall, eyes red and swollen. My sister and I slept on the floor next to her bed to keep her company. Several times during those few weeks, I woke up in the middle of the night and I'd see my grandmother wide awake, staring at nothing but the wall again. She barely spoke and stayed in bed, even during the day.

At least 80 percent of depressed people experience some form of insomnia, according to David N. Neubauer, M.D, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center – whether it's difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The link between the two has been well established. Recently, a study published in the journal SLEEP suggests that insomnia is more than just a symptom of depression; it actually increases your risk of getting it. People with insomnia that lasted more than two weeks were one and a half to two times more likely to develop depression.

I experienced insomnia right after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. I was based at CNN's Washington bureau and for months, I couldn't sleep.

I would drive to work absolutely exhausted and numb. Because I lived in Arlington, Virginia, I had to drive past the Pentagon on my way to work. It was an ugly reminder of what how many lives were lost that day.

I worked at the Pentagon on weekends to produce live shots with our reporter. Whenever I walked in, it smelled as if something had been burnt, like you had just put out a campfire.

I didn't realize I was depressed until I saw my doctor and he told me to see a counselor. He prescribed anti-depressants – which did help me get some sleep – until I could get past what happened. Eventually, I felt better and went off the drug and was able to fall and stay asleep.

Have you ever experienced insomnia and later developed depression?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.