One of the curious quirks of how our brain works has to do with how it responds to situations associated with fatigue, depression and sleep.
Usually the brain regulates sleep well. Every night, after we have been awake for the appropriate amount of time, our brain responds to signals from the “clock” cells in the pineal gland and to the build up of chemicals produced as we use energy during the day, and sets in motion processes that make us feel tired and that prepare our body for sleep.
However, when we sleep too much, which often happens when we are depressed, particularly in the winter, our brain routinely tells us “you need to sleep more.” If we then increase our sleep in response to the increasing sense of fatigue, our brain will urge us to sleep even more.
I was reminded of this by a blog I read by Julie Whitehead on Fatigue and Depression.
“I was so tired. I would sleep all night, wake up and get my kids off to school, then go back to bed as soon as they were gone. I would wake up around 10:30 or 11 a.m., get dressed and get ready to see my husband when he came home for lunch. While he was home, I would start laundry, eat lunch, and socialize with him until he left for work again.
Then I would go back to bed until the kids came home. Sometimes I would even stay in the bed once they got home and only get up in time to cook supper before my husband came in from work. Then I would stay awake, interact with them all, send the kids to bed at 8 p.m., and go back to bed myself around 8:30 or 9 p.m.”
And her experience is typical of people with bipolar depression. Hypersomnia is much more often a symptom of depression than insomnia in people with bipolar depression.
Even knowing this quirk of how our brains work, it is still difficult to overcome the urge to fall into the trap of oversleep.
I remember my own experience of this many years ago, when I felt that particular combination of boredom and depression that often leads me to want to sleep.
I would crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon for a couple of hours of sleep, and then wake up feeling even more exhausted than before I went to bed. And yet, it was almost impossible to overcome the desperate sense that I needed to get even more sleep.