One of the first questions asked on a form one fills out for Depression screening is “Have you experienced any changes in your sleep patterns?” or “Are you sleeping more or less than normal?”
Sleep disturbances and Clinical Depression go hand in hand. Many people find that they sleep more than usual, but by far the more common complaint is insomnia.
The word “insomnia” comes from the latin somnus which means “sleep”, and in which means “no”.
There are 3 main patterns of insomnia:
- Onset Insomnia – this is when one has difficulty getting to sleep to begin with. This type is commonly associated with Anxiety disorders.
- Middle Insomnia – or Nocturnal wakening, this is when one wakes during the middle of the night and has trouble getting back to sleep. This may happen several times a night. This type can be caused by pain, illness or Depression.
- Terminal Insomnia – or late insomnia, this is when one wakes too early in the morning and cannot get back to sleep. This is the type most commonly associated with Depression.
In the past it has always been thought that insomnia was a symptom of Depression, but recent studies have begun to question whether insomnia might be a cause cause of Depression as well.
An article in “Psychology Today” points especially to the mid-night wakening insomnia as the culprit for Depression.
During a normal night’s sleep we pass through 4 cycles of sleep plus REM (rapid eye movement, the cycle where we dream). When a person has insomnia, they usually do not make it past the 1st or 2nd cycle. They will often bypass the deeper late cycles, wake and start over into the light cycles again, so the brain is not getting any true rest. Without sleep the mind is unable to “recharge” during the night. It is during the 3rd, 4th and REM cycles that our brains work through the problems of the day and relax. In fact, during REM cycle, the body is usually paralyzed – only the brain is working at that point.
So without these very necessary cycles of sleep, the brain starts to get sick. Just like when our bodies are more likely to catch the flu when we have become too stressed out, so our brains are more likely to be affected by Depression when it is stressed due to lack of sleep.
Then it becomes a vicious circle; insomnia leads to Depression, and the Depression makes the insomnia worse.
It is important to talk with your doctor or psychiatrist about ongoing insomnia. It might not be necessary to take medication, but he or she can help you to make that decision. Most prescription medications are meant to be taken for about a week, just enough time to “jump-start” your brain into the habit of sleeping.
Other things you can do to help with insomnia are:
- Melatonin – melatonin is an over the counter supplement that is used to help fall asleep. It mimics the hormone already found in the body. Be sure to check with your doctor if you are already taking medications before you use this.
- Take a warm (not hot) bath or shower before bed.
- Play “white noise” such as the sound of ocean waves, thunder, or even the static of the tv softly while you sleep.
- Invest in a sleep mask to keep all light from your eyes while sleeping.
- Drink warm herbal tea such as chamomile before bedtime.
- Cut out all caffeine slowly from your diet, but especially make sure you do not drink any after 4 PM.
By getting a handle on your insomnia it is possible that you can get a handle on your Depression as well. If nothing else, having a good, full-night’s sleep will give you strength and energy to deal with any stress that the day may throw at you.