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Feeling down or grumpy, but don’t know why? When was the last time you actually had a good night’s rest? According to the Mental Health Foundation, sleep is as important to your well-being as food, drink and the air that you breathe.
In fact, research shows that there is a definite link between a lack of sleep and depression. But, which comes first? Depression leading to poor sleep, or poor sleep leading to depression? Historically, insomnia has been thought of as secondary to depression. In other words, you get depressed, and then your sleep gets poorer as a result.
It makes sense to link the two that way round (depression, then poor sleep). After all, worrying thoughts are a symptom of depression and overthinking can play havoc with sleep. It is a vicious circle. Worrying leads to poor sleep and poor sleep leads to tiredness and feelings of stress.
It is difficult to unpick the exact link between depression and poor sleep, but recent research suggests that depression often comes after a period of disturbed sleep.
Why does poor sleep lead to depression?
There are physical clues as to why a lack of sleep can lead to depression. One study revealed that people who were sleep-deprived for approximately 35 hours were less able to control their emotions and were more affected by negative emotional stimuli. There is physical evidence that changes in the brain and how it reacts occurs as a result of sleep deprivation.
What can you do to improve sleep?
If your mood is low, poor sleep could be the cause, or at the very least making matters worse. There are a number of things you can do to cope with sleep problems and improve sleep.
Here are seven tips to help you get good sleep. You may need to try a few different things before you find what works for you.
- Upgrade your bed and mattress. According to bed specialists, Snug Interiors, there are many negative effects of sleeping on a poorly designed bed and an old sagging mattress. It may seem obvious, but sleep can be improved significantly with a more comfortable bed. Before you go shopping for a new bed and mattress, check out the Sleep Council’s Bed Buyers’ Guide.
- Establish a routine. Waking up at the same time and going to bed at roughly the same time each day can really help to prepare your brain and body for sleep.
- Try a pre-bedtime relaxation routine. Try to make sure you do something calming and relaxing in the evening before bedtime. Having a warm (but not hot) bath or shower, and listening to some relaxing music is a good place to start. Gentle stretching exercises, such as a bedtime yoga routine can also help, as can breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation.
- Remove tech from your bedroom. Your bedroom should be set up to provide optimum sleep. Make your bedroom an area devoted to sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet and without any electronic devices. Any alarm clocks should be battery-powered. For more great reasons why your bedroom should be technology-free, see here.
- Keep a sleep diary. To get a better idea of your sleep patterns and habits, it is a good idea to keep a sleep diary. There could be a simple explanation for your sleep problems, such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. Noticing patterns will guide you to the changes you need to make to sleep better.
- Check your diet. Food can have a considerable effect on sleep and mood. Research carried out at Binghamton University, found that food can change your mood. The study found that eating fast food more than three times a week was linked to anxiety and depression. It was also found that eating fewer carbohydrates and more fruit reduced anxiety and depression. There is increasing evidence that diet has an impact on health and well-being. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, eating well helps to make us feel emotionally well and helps to prevent many diseases, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, cancer, joint problems and sleeping difficulties.
- Set a time to address worries. Set up a time in the late afternoon or early evening to do a ‘brain dump.’ Write down all of your worries and the things you need to do. It sounds a little disconcerting to focus on what is bothering you, but writing it down may bring positive effects. When you don’t allow minor worries to come to the surface, it is often at night when you start to unwind that you begin to ruminate. A new study shows that writing in a journal before bedtime can actually help you to fall asleep.
Sleep helps us to replenish our body and brain. It is an important aspect of our lives that we should be particularly mindful about. Lack of sleep can have serious effects on our mental health and well-being.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He tweets @dennisr_howell.