During a depressive episode, you may find yourself sleeping too much or too little. Here are tips for getting quality sleep when depression’s making it hard.
The relationship between sleep and mood is somewhat circular. While sleep problems are a common sign of depression, health conditions that affect sleep — like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea — can also lead to symptoms of depression.
Depression can make it harder for you to fall asleep or more challenging to wake up in the morning. It’s also not uncommon to feel sleepy during the day.
Sleep trouble can be caused by a dip in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical messenger in the brain (neurotransmitter), and when it takes a plunge, you may feel extra sleepy. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, stress may also be playing a role. Anxiety alerts the body to danger, and when your body is ready to fight or flee, insomnia — or other sleep-wake disorders — can follow.
While these sleeping woes can cause concern, you can overcome them by trying out these sleep tips that may help you get some shut-eye.
When you can’t sleep
Practice good sleep hygiene
If you’re tossing and turning at night, practicing sound sleep hygiene tips like the following may help:
- Put away the electronics. If you’re prone to doomscrolling on your phone in the middle of the night or watching Netflix in bed, you might consider banning electronics from your bedroom. Not only are these devices distracting, but
researchshows the blue light from your phone or tablet can disrupt the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which can lead to insomnia.
- Exercise a few hours beforehand. Activities like walking, running, cycling, lifting weights, or doing yoga can make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Just be sure to end your workout a few hours ahead of bedtime so the exciting hormones that build during exercise have time to flush out so you can wind down properly.
- Choose a new nighttime bev. Drinking alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep. Suppose you’re someone who enjoys a late-night espresso or chilled cocktail. In that case, you might consider ending your day with a cup of noncaffeinated tea or bubbly water instead.
Have a bedtime routine
Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids.
What to add to your bedtime routine to help you fall asleep
- Ending the day with a warm shower or bath has been found in one study to improve sleep.
- Finding a few minutes to meditate may prove to relieve stress.
- Listening to some of your favorite tunes can also help you relax.
- Research affirms that writing daily has benefits for your mental and overall health.
- After you climb into bed, reading a good old-fashioned book or magazine can help your mind unwind.
Maintain a comfortable atmosphere
When it comes to quality sleep, atmosphere matters. For starters, make sure your room is dark. Light of any sort tells the brain that it’s daytime, which not only makes it harder to stay asleep but can also derail the quality of your slumber.
To create a cozier atmosphere, you may want to make sure the temperature in your room is just right, too. While everyone has different preferences, the Sleep Foundation recommends keeping the temperature between 60 and 71 degrees.
One study measured the effectiveness of feet warming while sleeping in a cool bedroom environment and found that participants fell asleep 7.5 minutes faster and slept 32 minutes longer when wearing feet-warming bed socks.
If you’re someone who can’t fall asleep when it’s quiet, consider turning on an ambient noise machine.
Don’t force yourself to sleep
It seems as though the very moment you tell yourself “OK shut it off and go to sleep,” your mind starts spinning and anxiety arises, which only makes it harder to fall asleep.
If this happens to you, try not to force yourself to sleep. Instead, you might consider telling yourself to stay awake. Sleep experts call this practice “paradoxical intention,” and this reverse psychology trick may help you fall asleep faster.
When you oversleep during depression
If your feelings of helplessness, malaise, and despair are causing you to oversleep, you may be experiencing hypersomnia. While hypersomnia isn’t as common as insomnia, approximately 50% of people living with depression experience excessive sleepiness.
Here are some signs to look out for:
- sleeping for more than 7 to 9 hours each night
- sleeping through your alarm
- having trouble getting out of bed in the morning
- feeling groggy
- having difficulty concentrating
Most of us feel sluggish from time to time, but when hypersomnia becomes a pattern, it can be a sign of depression, especially among younger adults. In fact, research states that approximately 30% to 40% of people living with depression experience hypersomnia, according to research in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Sleeping too much can worsen your symptoms. However, know that the tips we outlined above can help you improve hypersomnia, too.
What to add to your waking routine to stop oversleeping
- When you open your eyes, physically rise out of bed without delay.
- Let natural light pour in if you awake to a dark room to activate your circadian rhythm.
- Include something you want to do in your waking routine. Depression can cause you to lose interest in formerly enjoyable activities, so you may need to find a new reward.
- Egg yourself on. Perhaps you prefer silence during depressive episodes. You can use an alarm that plays loud music or reads the daily weather aloud, for mental stimuli. You could put the alarm in another room so you’ll have to get up to turn it off.
- Consider setting alarms throughout the day for things that will keep you going, like an afternoon stroll or meal preparation.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, know that you’re not alone. Insomnia and hypersomnia are common symptoms and can be treated with the help of a healthcare professional and by you, at home with a few routine adjustments.
Making small tweaks that work for your living space and needs during a depressive episode is doable. What’s most important is choosing the support that’s right for you. Just taking the first step is an act of courage.