Most individuals with major depression (MDD) experience some form of sleep disturbance. The most common sleep problem is insomnia, which can include difficulty falling asleep, waking during sleep, daytime fatigue, and early morning insomnia. In fact, insomnia is considered a symptom of relapse for people with MDD who are currently in remission. For those who are not in remission, addressing sleep disturbances may be a way to expedite symptom reduction. This is especially important for individuals who do not respond to traditional treatments.
Therefore, Chad D. Rethorst of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas conducted a study that was a follow up to a previous exploration of the effects of exercise on remission and insomnia in a sample of 122 adult clients with current MDD symptoms. Rethorst divided the participants into two groups. One group participated in high intensity exercise for 12 weeks, while the other group completed a low intensity exercise program. Both groups received an SSRI antidepressant. Rethorst assessed baseline MDD and insomnia symptoms and evaluated the clients again at the end of the 12 week study period.
He found that exercise in conjunction with the SSRI had a significantly positive effect on insomnia. In fact, the individuals with the highest levels of insomnia at baseline, especially daytime fatigue, had the greatest reductions in depressive symptoms after the intervention. Rethorst also discovered that both groups of participants benefited from the treatment, regardless of level of exercise intensity. He also realized that reductions in insomnia symptoms were independent of depressive symptoms. This suggests that individuals with MDD and insomnia may be able to achieve better levels of sleep by adding exercise to their treatment program. By improving sleep quality and duration, they may be able to protect themselves from MDD relapse or may even be able to assist in eventual remission. In sum, these results clearly provide support for exercise in the treatment of MDD. Rethorst added that because insomnia was a prevalent residual symptom after MDD treatments, “exercise augmentation may have an important role in the treatment of MDD.”
Rethorst, C. D., et al. (2013). Does exercise improve self-reported sleep quality in non-remitted major depressive disorder? Psychological Medicine 43.4 (2013): 699-709. ProQuest. Web.
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