The Link Between Depression and Sleep

Feeling gloomy is a natural human emotion, but if you're experiencing this a little more often, you might be getting less sleep than you need.

Depression can be triggered by various factors; some, a mix of others. It may be caused by stress at work, an illness, financial woe, broken relationships, stagnant health and loss of a loved one. In some cases, factors like age, personality and family history may come to play. At times, it could be post-birth, too much drinking, or taking drugs. While it’s easy to ponder the series of situations which must have led to one’s depression, curing it is still a puzzle.

There is no singular cure for depression. Some take medicine. Others choose natural remedies. And then there are those who find complete transformation by changing their lifestyle; switching the food they eat, their daily routines, and turning to exercise to boost their vigour. Some seek social support – a powerful cure for those battling thoughts and feelings in their own heads. And some, well – they are advised to take more sleep.

Natural cures for depression

Stephen Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs,” suggested on focusing on remedies we have turned our backs on. Firstly, he suggests a regular intake of foods rich with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. “Because the brain needs a steady supply of Omega-3s to function properly, people who don’t eat enough of these fats are at increased risk for many forms of mental illness, including depression.” Ilardi explains that British researchers performed an experiment on depressed patients who did not recover even after taking anti-depressants for two months. All patients were advised to stay on their meds; a separate group, however, added Omega-3 supplements to their intake. The result: about 70% of those who took their Omega-3s recovered.

Ilardi also advised engagement, physical exercise, social support, and sunlight exposure. “Without light exposure, the body clock eventually gets out of sync, and when that happens, it throws off important circadian rhythms that regulate energy, sleep, appetite, and hormone levels. The disruption of these important biological rhythms can, in turn, trigger clinical depression,” Ilardi notes.

Lastly, Ilardi recommended sleep. “When sleep deprivation continues for days or weeks at a time, it can interfere with our ability to think clearly,” he says. “Disrupted sleep is one of the most potent triggers of depression, and there’s evidence that most episodes of mood disorder are preceded by at least several weeks of subpar slumber.”

Less than 8-hour sleep leads to more negative thoughts

Lack of sleep, it turned out, can be linked directly to this illness. According to the Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, people with less than eight hours of sleep are prone to depression. It's likely that it goes hand in hand with insomnia; one triggers the other, and vice versa. In the study, 52 adults with repeated negative thinking (labelled as RNT) had their sleep patterns analysed. The results were determined through eye movement monitoring and interviews, after being shown images that trigger emotional or neutral responses. Those who slept less than eight hours are more unable to disengage from the negative pictures they saw.

Some people have tendencies to have thoughts stuck in their heads, Binghamton University's Professor Meredith Coles, author of the study, suggests. “Their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to.”

“This repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders line anxiety, depression, and many other things,” she adds.

In an earlier experiment, the University of Pennsylvania also reported that subjects who slept only less than 5 hours of sleep at night wake up feeling more stressed, sad, angry and mentally exhausted. When they were able to get enough sleep, there was a dramatic improvement in their mood.

Through a blog post, Harvard Medical School explains that difficulty in sleeping may be one of the first symptoms of depression. Studies found that 15-20% of people suffering from insomnia are more likely to develop this illness. Worse, those with insomnia may potentially get panic disorders, too. Lack of sleep is also be a big factor in one’s anxiety. “There’s a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep,” said Sleep Health Centers' medical director Dr Lawrence Epstein.

Feeling sad? Sleep.

Taking your Zzzs may not cure one's depression overall, but it could help one recover faster. Clinical psychologist Kelly Glazer Brown reveals, “Sleep is quite involved in mood regulation; there are a lot of changes to the brain in areas related to sleep, both structure and functional.”

But how can one sleep when they are having difficulties to do so? Colleen Carney, Ph.D., led an experiment in which participants in a cognitive behavioural therapy were taught to establish a regular waking time. Here, they were trained to avoid eating, reading, watching TV and other activities before bedtime. The point of the therapy, Carney implies, is to curb the idea that sleeping requires effort.

Maybe it’s one’s personal habits that need to be overcome, but by discipline, sleeping will take less struggle. It could start with a hot bath, with changing into your comfy silk pyjamas, a cup of hot tea, or a room simmering with the scent of lavender. Maybe it’s as simple as putting a sleep mask on. Either ways, your body, and your mind, can benefit from a good night’s sleep, so why not start tonight?

Jonas Diezun

Co-Founder at RADICE

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