A study of firefighters has found how insomnia and nightmares can fuel depression by impairing the ability to access and influence emotion regulation strategies properly. A high percentage of participants reported clinical insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, and nightmare problems. Additional analysis revealed that the indirect effects of overall emotion regulation difficulties were significant both in the relationship between insomnia and depression, and nightmares and depression. The most significant effect was limited access to emotion regulation strategies such as problem-solving.
Lead author Melanie Hom said, “Our study findings suggest that firefighters with sleep difficulties are likely to experience greater struggles accessing strategies to regulate their emotions, especially when feeling upset. This, in turn, may lead to or worsen feelings of depression and low mood. These results are important because they provide a plausible explanation for why and how sleep problems may contribute to depression, which are critical questions for prevention and intervention.”
The research team analyzed responses from 880 current and retired firefighters who completed online surveys. Hom added, “Firefighters are typically faced with many demands, including difficult work schedules, and they often both witness and experience traumatic events. It is not surprising that firefighters may experience sleep problems and depression, but it is critical that greater efforts be made to prevent and treat these problems.”
The findings reveal that emotion dysregulation may be a targeted treatment to help reduce depression in those suffering from insomnia and nightmares.