What Are Depression Naps?

What Are Depression Naps? 

To many people, it won’t come as a surprise that sleep and mental health are closely intertwined. Sleeping for extensive amounts of time is commonly associated with diagnoses of depression, which is usually accompanied by several other symptoms and identifying factors.

In fact, according to Harvard Health, several studies have shown that between 65 to 90% of adult patients with major depression have experienced sleep dysfunction in some shape or form. One example is by napping for long periods on a daily basis, a practice also referred to as a “depression nap,” a term that’s been thrown around more frequently during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Alex Dimitriu, MD, a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo Park, California, depression naps refer to taking a nap when you’re feeling low, in an effort to boost your mood. But it might not necessarily indicate a serious problem.

“It is important to realize there is a very big difference between feeling tired, sleepy, sad, and depressed,” Dr. Dimitriu says. “A lot of times it can be hard to know your own feelings, and too often in my work, people with fatigue end up thinking they are depressed.”

Characteristics, Traits, & Symptoms

Just like feelings of depression can lead people to want to sleep all the time, being in a general state of sleep deprivation, whether it comes from caring for young kids, dealing with long work hours and work-related stress, or other personal reasons can also contribute to feelings of depression.

 When it comes to distinguishing fatigue from sleepiness from depression, it helps to understand each one in more detail, and also to realize that getting an adequate seven to eight hours of sleep per night would likely benefit all three issues, Dr. Dimitriu says. 

Sleepiness is usually the easiest to identify. You can do so by asking yourself if you would be able to fall asleep right now.

If sleep deprivation is the true issue, taking steps to clean up your sleep hygiene and prioritizing sleep as crucial for your health and well being can truly make a difference.

Fatigue, meanwhile, is different from sleepiness, with low energy, reduced motivation and drive, but not necessarily a desire to sleep, he says. With fatigue, your body may physically feel tired, which can also be a sign of another underlying health issue, which highlights the importance of keeping up with regular doctors’ visits and keeping your provider updated on any and all concerns.

Finally, depression is marked chiefly by low mood and loss of interest in pleasure on most days for two weeks, Dr. Dimitriu says. Additional symptoms can include lowered energy, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of hopelessness, low appetite, and even thoughts of suicide. “It’s worth noting that depressed people can also have an increased need for sleep, as well as symptoms of fatigue, like low energy and low motivation,” Dr. Dimitriu says.

If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s key to seek professional help to appropriately navigate the path forward.

Diagnosis or Identifying Depression Naps

It can be hard to pinpoint whether a napping habit is truly a symptom of depression, or if you’re just exhausted, Dr. Dimitriu says. The first step is to confirm whether basic human needs are being met, such as getting enough sleep for at least a week, eating healthy, some socialization, and exercise

Working too much and playing too little can also cause burnout or depression, terms that are often used interchangeably, which can add further confusion. “If someone experiences low mood on more days than not, with a loss of interest in pleasure or lack of joy, it may be time to speak to a professional,” Dr. Dimitriu says. “However, thoughts of death or suicide are an immediate red flag that professional help is needed.”

Causes

As stated earlier, the desire to nap can be brought on by sheer exhaustion on its own, as well as underlying mental health issues. Depression is often tied to insomnia, so if you’re chronically sleep deprived, it makes sense that you would experience feeling low and exhausted all at the same time.

However, people who are depressed also often find themselves feeling alert at the same time and not actually able to sleep during the day, which adds to the importance of seeking a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Treatment

If you’ve sought out professional help for underlying depression, your provider can help you determine the appropriate treatment path, such as regular therapy sessions or prescription medication. If the problem is tied more to your sleep patterns, seeking help from an expert can also help you to clean up your sleep hygiene and develop better sleeping habits and patterns.

Sometimes simple steps like going to bed at the same time every night or refraining from using mobile devices in bed can make a huge difference in restoring a healthy sleep routine.

Coping

Once you’ve appropriately identified what you’re experiencing, you can determine if you need to take action to adjust your routine and habits. Naps, if kept to about 30 minutes long and not too close to bedtime, can be a nice way to recharge and reframe thinking, Dr. Dimitriu says. As long as they don't interfere with nighttime sleep, or result from not getting enough sleep at night, they can be healthy and restorative.

“In a sleep-deprived society, fatigue is all too often the cause of low mood, low motivation, and increased anxiety and impulsivity,” Dr. Dimitriu says. “In these cases, sleeping more often will help.” 

A Word From Verywell

If you’ve felt a bit blue, short naps aren’t a harmful thing—in fact, they can be restorative and help you feel refreshed and better able to maintain productivity during the remainder of your day. As long as you’ve sought professional help where necessary to rule out underlying mental health conditions, an occasional nap can be effective for boosting your mood.

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  1. Sleep and mental health. Harvard Health Publishing. Published March 18, 2019.