The Complex Relationship Between Sleep And Depression (And How To Handle It)
There’s no question about the importance of sleep for mental and physical health. But what’s interesting is that disordered sleeping patterns often appear as one of the telltale symptoms of depression. According to research published in 2008, three-quarters of those suffering from depression experience insomnia, while hypersomnia is present in 40% of younger patients. In addition to having a significant impact on life quality, these symptoms can also be a risk factor for suicide.
With this information in mind, it becomes apparent that sleep hygiene is a particularly important area of life to focus on. Especially since it may even have a preventative effect.
How sleep influences the brain (and body)
Most experts agree that adults should be aiming to get between seven and nine hours of rest per day. The reasoning behind this is simple.
While sleeping, the body has a unique opportunity to recover from the day’s activities. In addition to storing and processing information, this is also the time when we flush out toxins, repair muscle, and synthesize proteins. It’s a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy immune system, as well as being able to think critically and fulfill tasks with efficiency. However, a little-known fact about sleep is that it affects emotional well-being as well.
Lack of sleep has been shown to negatively impact the functioning of brain areas in charge of emotional response, particularly the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex. What this means is that, without sufficient sleep, the brain returns to its more primitive states, thus being unable to adequately respond to negative stimuli. So, the solution seems to be simple: get enough sleep. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.
Healthy sleep practices for improved emotional health
Do you want to make sure that your body and mind are in prime performance capacity? Well, there are several things you can do to get better sleep. Yoga, nutrition, and mindfulness are all excellent ways to prepare yourself for a great night of rest. But you can take things even further.
1. Take control of your circadian rhythm
One of the systems regulating our sleep-wake cycles is the circadian rhythm. It responds to external clues by signaling to the body to produce melatonin (which makes you sleepy at night). An easy way to ensure its proper functioning is to pay attention to those clues. Be mindful of the light in your surroundings (blue light is excellent for waking up but detrimental at night). Furthermore, lower the temperature in your bedroom a couple of hours before bed, and try not to eat or exercise too close to bedtime.
2. Create habits
While positive habits may not be the easiest to develop, they can have an influence on your sleep, as well as your emotional health. For example, training yourself to ignore your alarm clock’s snooze function might help you wake up with more ease. Furthermore, some research suggests that starting the day with something productive like making the bed may help provide a greater sense of accomplishment and boost efficiency throughout the day.
3. Address emotional burdens
Have you ever found yourself lying awake at night thinking about the day’s events?
If the answer is yes, then you already know that a good night’s sleep is impossible when feeling overwhelmed. This is why healthy emotional practices are such a crucial aspect of a balanced life. Meditation, mindfulness, journaling, and creative outlets like painting or writing can be hugely beneficial in helping us deal with life’s regular challenges.
4. Ask for help
Whether you’re depressed or just feeling exhausted due to a bout of insomnia, you might want to consider getting help. The stress of our daily lives is often difficult to deal with when we lack the right tools, and even just a few therapy sessions might help you get back on track. Think of them as a monthly check-up for your emotions. You already go to the dentist and doctor regularly, you definitely service your car once a year, so why not do the same for your mental health?
The more we learn about sleep, the more aware we become of its importance for physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, our lives tend to be structured in ways that often destabilize rest. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless.
We now have access to more tools than ever to give ourselves the quality rest we need. It doesn’t take gadgets and gizmos. Something as simple as a habit tracker coupled with being mindful of our body’s needs is more than enough to develop good sleep hygiene. And it may just turn out to be the thing that keeps depression at bay.
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