Like peas in a pot, insomnia and depression go well together. Sleep difficulties are a symptom of depression and depression can influence your sleeping pattern. I feel some hopelessness creeping up already.
As I learned on the internet, ‘we can cure all diseases by living closer to nature.’ Well that just might be a troll or an oil snake salesman but nonetheless, let’s see what nature has to offer.
Animals and humans have a distinct circadian rhythm which sets biological and behavioral processes . This is to say that we have an internal clock that regulates a lot and we don’t even notice it. Unless there is something not quite right off course.
Your internal clock reacts to the environment. Due to the morning light in your bedroom, you wake up. I know this is an illusion because it is often the noisy thing that beeps into our ears that makes us jump out of bed. The internal clock operates at an 24 hours schedule and regulates not only sleep but also body temperature, cognitive processes and alertness. It is normal for us to feel more alert, better and most productive in the morning. Yes, after a good night sleep, I can imagine that. Those feelings decline during the day and so you will be naturally more tired and less tensed during the evening. It is this ‘unwinding’ towards the evening that can be disrupted with depression.
Hormones follow this 24 hour clock as well. Melatonin may be dysregulated in depression. Melatonin is released due to dim light condition about 2 hours before bed time. In depression they found a delayed melatonin release, suggesting a delay onset of sleepiness. People suffering from depression may also be sensitive to light induced suppression of melatonin. Now I understand why I prefer to have my curtains shut and the darkness holds something comforting for me. It could be that the melatonin is suppressed already and I do not respond well to light and that I don’t want to go to bed so early. New or strong impulses can keep me awake too. I did notice when I receive a text or worse – a phone call! – before I was going to sleep; that phone call is able to keep me up for at least 2 hours more.
Depression influences your sleep, it can
- shorten the interval between sleep initiation and the first period of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
- longer REM sleep, this is a more ‘active’ sleep
- cause a reduction in the amount of delta, or slow wave sleep. This is the time you get ‘your rest’. The slow wave sleep is when your body and mind are relaxed.
What to do if you find yourself in this predicament?
It is possible that your day routines like social interaction and meals can influence the internal clock. By trying to hold on to some routines (what is possible for you off course) you can give strong pointers to reset the clock. The rhythm during the day influences the rhythm at night and this may help to diminish depressive feelings.
As said, rhythm is key. Some life events disrupt our routines and may contribute to onset of depression. Having a baby, working shifts, travelling often can all dysregulate our clock and it is wise to pay extra attention to your sleeping patterns during those times.
There are a lot of tips available to improve sleep, I used to look up so many things because I was desperate to get some sleep, it didn’t work then but I’m motivated now to give it another try. I need to remind myself to:
- Reduce stimulation such as noise or lights before bed time.
- To keep the room cooler rather than warmer.
- Avoid stimulating activities, such as work or heated discussions before going to sleep. No blogging before sleep time for me!
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, cola drinks, chocolate) within 8 hours of bed time.
- Avoid alcohol within 6 hours before bed time; it can reduce the quality of sleep.
- Avoid smoking at least 2 hours before bed time; nicotine is stimulating.
- Day time sleep adds to your 24 hour sleep cycle; avoid naps. Unless you’re really tired, then sleep is my experience. But this is contrary to the advice.
- A regular exercise program helps sleep, but not if done just before bed time.
- Put the bedside clock out of view to avoid ‘clock watching’ at night. I put my clock in my closet. It can stay there.
- A light snack at bed time can be helpful.
- Routine is critical. Getting up around the same time each day helps set your day/night clock. This is said to be more important than going to bed at the same time. I need to try this one out.
- A ‘wind down’ routine before going to bed can help relax and make it easier to sleep. This can include activities such as reading, having a warm bath or listening to music. This really helps me a lot!
- Relaxation exercises, such as progressive muscle relaxation and breathing techniques, can reduce anxiety and assist sleep. This is particularly useful for conditioned insomnia; when you can’t sleep due to excessive worry about not sleeping.
- If after some time sleep does not come, get up, go into another room and do a relaxing, quiet and soothing activity such as listening to soothing music, then return to bed.
Do you struggle with sleep? Do you have tips or do you apply some tips mentioned above? You can tell me in the comments, I’m always on the lookout to improve my sleep. If you like to read more on sleep you are welcome to read my previous post here.
 Sleep and depression, theory and practice. Berk, M. (2009). Australian Family Physician. Vol. 38, n° 5.