Pillow Talk: Sleep’s Impact on Your Depression

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The room was no longer as dark as it was an hour ago. My eyes had completely adjusted as I was wide awake by now. I didn’t even need to roll over to check the time. I knew I woke up at 2:45am.

“Time to start the day.” I thought to myself as I crawled out of bed and into the my world.

This being my sixth week on the medication I was well used to the routine. The first week I was disturbed by how early I was waking up. Who wouldn’t be upset about it? I was waking up at a time reserved for truckers and serial killers. I tried staying up late but that didn’t help. It didn’t matter what time I went to bed; my body was waking me up somewhere between 2 and 4 every morning.

By week six it was taking a toll on both my body and my mind. I was drained creatively and physically. I felt like a zombie.

Over the six week period the medication caused me to gain weight, gave me painful muscle cramps (so it was hard to walk), made it so my brain just couldn’t shut off (so I couldn’t relax), oh and then that pesky depression thing that started it all.

I believe sleep was an underlying contributor to all of the emotional issues and the increased depression I experienced over the six weeks.

Sleep: an overlooked natural resource

Sleep is so undervalued in our society despite the fact that lack of it can cause so much damage both physically and emotionally.

The link between sleep and depression is well-established and fairly well-known. Depression often causes sleep-related symptoms like insomnia. In fact, it is so common that sleep disturbances are part of the criteria for diagnosing depression.

Which comes first the depression or the sleep issues

Many studies have shown though that this relationship goes both ways. Sleep can also affect depression. For example, one study not only showed that depression could predict insomnia, but the insomnia itself could predict the depression.

Another found that sleep duration outside the normal range was linked to depressive symptoms. Sleep deprivation, in particular, could be a precursor to depression.

We’ve heard stories of POW’s being subjected to sleep deprivation as a form of torture yet we subject ourselves to a, admittedly much milder, form of that regularly. Our lives don’t allow for proper sleep and, when we’re dealing with depression, many of us could be sleeping too little or too much. There’s a balance we must maintain.

Restful sleep is, duh, necessary to function. If a person hasn’t slept, they will never be at their best, something that can be much more significant for people with depression. Restful sleep helps balance your brain chemicals and recharge your body. Plus, the energy you gain from regular sleep is desperately needed when fighting your depression or taming your anxiety.

How to (kinda) sleep your way out of depression

Something as simple as keeping a regular sleep schedule can make a dynamic shift in your mental health. Waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, can help alleviate many problems related to depression in addition to maintaining more energy and better body function.

The New York Times cited a study in their article stating “Curing insomnia in people with depression could double their chance of a full recovery…”

The study also suggests that the relationship between sleep problems and depression goes both ways, so fixing insomnia can really help with depression.

The single most effective thing you can do to impact your sleep (and your depression):

Wake up at the same time every day.

I can tell you that, prior to this six-week ‘wake-ing dead’ period, keeping a morning routine contributed heavily to how well I handled my depression during the day. If I could keep my commitment to myself and get out of bed at the time I said I would then there was a really good chance I could survive the day. In fact, when I start sleeping in that’s a sign to my wife that I’m not doing well.

Sleep Depression - Battle your blues with these 4 tips

If you’re struggling with depression do what you can to get into a sleep routine.

It’s not going to be perfect the first week so don’t hate yourself on Tuesday when you can’t get out of bed. However just because you blow it on Tuesday doesn’t mean you should wait until the following Monday to try this thing again. Every day is another chance to get it right.

Remember, keep moving forward. It’s gonna be ugly and imperfect but eventually you will get some consistency. That’s what we’re going for here. We don’t need perfect sleep routines we just need consistent ones.

If you’re lucky enough to not battle major depression take this information as a valuable heads up:

Get your sleep on.

Even though this well-established link between depression and sleep habits is still being researched, there is plenty of evidence that suggests a healthy sleep routine can be a protective factor against depression in addition to reducing any mild depression symptoms you may already have.

Adam Weitz
Adam Weitz

Adam Weitz is a multi-discipline designer, business owner, and founder of Sad Runner. He is passionate about encouraging people with depression and works through Sad Runner to positively impact their lives.