Depression and fatigue: How to cope

According to a 2018 report, fatigue affects over 90 percent of people with major depressive disorder.

In this article, learn about the link between depression and fatigue, as well as how to cope.

What causes depression fatigue?

People with depression are more likely to experience fatigue, and people with chronic fatigue are more likely to become depressed, creating a cycle that can be hard to break.

Potential causes of depression fatigue include sleep problems, diet, stress, and even the medications used to treat depression.

Learn more about each cause below:

Sleep problems

Sleep is essential for regenerating the body and replenishing energy. Lack of sleep alone may not cause depression, but it does increase risk and can make existing depression symptoms worse.

Even if a person with depression is getting enough sleep, they may not wake up feeling refreshed because the quality of sleep is often lower than that experienced by a person who does not have depression.

Research shows that many people with depression and other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, experience both insomnia and hypersomnia.

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. One 2015 study found that depression is common in people with sleep apnea and that it affects the severity of sleep apnea.

Furthermore, the study found that treating the sleep apnea improved depression symptoms.


Researchers have long speculated about whether diet affects mental health. One recent meta-analysis looked at multiple studies for a link between diet and depression risk.

The report found some evidence that higher quality diets, such as those that include anti-inflammatory foods, may lower some people’s risk for depression. However, more research needs to be done

A second meta-analysis also associated specific diet patterns with an increased risk for depression. In particular, researchers found that Western-style diets containing red meat, processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and other unhealthful foods may increase the risk for symptoms of depression in some people.


Stress can affect levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are chemicals in the brain that play an essential part in regulating mood and energy.

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, death of a loved one, significant financial loss, job changes, 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 cause a person to withdraw from social activities and have problems thinking clearly.


Antidepressants work by acting on the brain’s neurotransmitters to help them do a better job of regulating a person’s mood. Some antidepressants, however, can cause significant fatigue.

Practicing good sleep hygiene can help a person manage depression fatigue. Good sleep hygiene means having certain habits that promote quality sleep.

These habits include:

  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
  • limiting daytime naps
  • not 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

It can be challenging to eat well if a person is dealing with low motivation and lack of appetite. However, eating foods high in fat and sugar can make symptoms worse by causing blood sugar rushes and disturbing sleep.

Eating foods that promote a good mood and increase energy can help reduce fatigue. Foods that may help include:

  • leafy greens
  • fatty fish
  • green tea
  • blueberries
  • yogurts and other probiotics
  • chocolate


People struggling with prolonged fatigue due to depression should talk to their doctor.

Untreated fatigue can cause a variety of complications over time, 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.

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