Everyone has days where they feel down in the dumps. But when feelings of sadness, anger or frustration become so overwhelming they interfere with your daily activities you could fall into depression. While sleep disorders have long been associated with depression, recent research on this link has changed the way the medical community views the cause of depression. Today I’m going to share the latest research and tell you how to use this new information to fight depression – or even prevent it altogether.
The Surprising Link Between Insomnia and Depression
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. During our mid-life years the chances of experiencing an episode of depression nearly doubles. Even mild cases can interfere with one’s ability to function normally at work, maintain a home and interact socially.
Over 90% of depression patients suffer from either insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep). For a long time, many experts believed insomnia was caused by depression. But new drugs designed to treat depression proved depression could be improved without relieving the patient’s insomnia.
New studies have dramatically changed the way researchers understand the link between insomnia and depression. These studies conclude insomnia is frequently the cause of depression instead of the other way around. For example, elderly patients with insomnia but no history of depression were found to be 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with an initial episode of depression than patients without insomnia. Those at highest risk for first-time depression suffer from severe “middle insomnia,” where you wake up frequently through the night then eventually go back to sleep each time.
By correcting sleep disorders, patients recover significantly faster from depression. One study found depressed patients able to sleep well were 11 times more likely to have recovered within 6 months than those with insomnia. Improved sleep also reduces the likelihood of remission. Two-thirds of patients with persistent insomnia relapse into depression within a year of discontinuing antidepressants while only 10% of those with good sleep do.
Clearly sleeping well is critical for dealing with depression. While most studies focus on patients suffering from major depression, those suffering from milder forms will likely benefit from a similar focus on improving sleeping habits.
Quick Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Rest
If you or someone you love is one of the nearly 18 million Americans battling depression each year I have some good news for you. You probably don’t have to resort to addictive sleeping pills to get the rest you need. Instead I’ll share with you some of my best tips on beating insomnia so you can safely and easily get the 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep you need for optimum health.
Start by sleeping on the right mattress. Choose a fully supportive mattress with just enough softness to allow you to wake up refreshed, not sore. Pillow placement should keep your head and neck in a straight line. Always keep your room as dark as possible while sleeping. If you absolutely must fall asleep with a radio or television on, use its sleep timer. Dress for bed in comfortable, loose fitting clothes. Your goal is to be comfortably warm, not too hot or too cold.
Get into a routine. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Avoid naps during the day. If needed, keep naps to 15-20 minutes long. Avoid drinking for an hour before bedtime to avoid waking from a full bladder. Exercise or other physical activity during the day, at least an hour before bedtime, helps you achieve a deeper, more restful sleep. Limit yourself to the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee a day, avoiding caffeinated drinks including hot cocoa and soda near bedtime.
Try late night snacks like milk, turkey, ice cream, yogurt, or peanuts an hour before bed. These all have high levels of tryptophan which help your body produce the serotonin needed to relax and prepare your body for sleep. Some natural herbal supplements have a long track record as non-habit forming sleep aids. Passionflowers, Valerian root and American Skullcap leaves are a few which have been used for centuries to safely and effectively treat anxiety and insomnia.
Wrapping Up Depression
If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide or is in crisis, please seek help immediately by calling 911 or visiting a nearby emergency department.
Remember, depression is a treatable illness. While every case of depression may not be overcome with sleep alone, getting proper rest will certainly help. Exercise and maintaining a proper diet also play an important role. Whether you suffer from depression or not, you will always enjoy better health by sleeping well, exercising regularly, and eating the right foods.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging