Sleep and Depression
Depression and insomnia are both significant public health problems around the world. Sleeplessness has been described as a global silent epidemic whilst depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide. Recently, the powerful benefits of better sleep have come to light as a possible intervention for improving all mental health disorders, including depression, which affects 1 in 3 people at some point in their lifetime.
This blog post highlights how the Sleep School’s revolutionary use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can work to help both your sleep as well as your mood.
What’s the link?
We have all felt tired and irritable after a poor night’s sleep, but we can usually bounce back to good form once we’ve had a chance to make up for it the following night. But when sleeplessness becomes the norm, recovering becomes much harder. Over time, the damaging effects of reduced sleep quality and quantity build up, damaging both our body and our mind. In fact, 40% of patients with depression will experience sleep problems before they show symptoms of depression.
The effect of sleep on our mental health can be so strong that having insomnia has been shown to potentially double one’s risk of developing depression. In light of such research, targeting their sleeping habits can be an effective supplementary treatment for individuals with poor mental health.
Here at the Sleep School, we have revolutionised the use of ACT as a tool to help our clients sleep better. Unlike the traditional approach of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which aims to get rid of challenging thoughts, ACT encourages their acceptance, weakening their powerful grip over our lives. Amazingly, ACT has also been shown to be effective in treating depressive symptoms, which means that most clients who regularly practise ACT for sleep improvement also experience an elevation in mood!
What can you do?
Below are some ACT-based tips to help improve your sleep and with it, your mood.
Defusing negative thoughts
We often try to get rid of the stressful and worrisome thoughts that fuel our anxiety, low mood, and sleeplessness. Getting into this habit can be exhausting, however, considering that an average person has between 50,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, many of them negative! Trying to block or avoid all those common yet unhelpful thoughts such as ‘I’m a lost cause’ or ‘my insomnia will never end’ truly is a futile waste of energy.
ACT seeks to remind us that thoughts are not facts that we ought to believe, but simply fragments of sounds, words, or images that endlessly pass through our mind. By altering the context in which you view them, ACT teaches you to transform the way you relate to such thoughts, and to stop struggling to get rid of or change them. Paradoxically, accepting them will allow them to pass through your mind, saving you the trip down the rabbit hole where all your stressful and destructive assumptions live.
This will not only help relieve you of the anxiety you may feel before bed, but can also be helpful in relieving stressful situations during the day, allowing you to feel better, sleep better and live better.
Noticing your breath
It’s only natural to get caught up in worrisome emotions, whether that’s feeling anxious about not being able to sleep, or experiencing emotions of guilt, irritability, or hopelessness for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, wallowing in such emotions can further fuel your sleeplessness or feelings of sadness. Thankfully, taking as little as 5 minutes to focus on the natural rhythm of your breath can help get you through the challenging times by keeping you in the present moment and not allowing your thoughts to spiral out of control.
Mindful breathing is as easy as being aware of your breathing whilst accepting any emotions or thoughts that come along with it, without passing any sort of judgement. It can be likened to sitting at the bottom of the ocean looking up at the waves: you can notice them crashing on the surface, but you remain unaffected by them. Like with any skill, it can seem tricky at first, but the more you do it, the better you’ll become at it, to the point where you will be able to use it as a tool to help transition you into a mindful, peaceful state at any time of day or night.
Live your valued lives
Fuelled by the fear of not sleeping, insomnia can impact your ability to live your life. Life eventually becomes more about getting rid of your insomnia than actually living, which in turn further fuels insomnia as well as depression. In accordance with ACT, here at the Sleep School we believe that connecting with what is important to you in life is an essential step towards overcoming both insomnia and depression. For instance, one reason why we recommend our clients don’t get out of bed when unable to sleep but instead lie in bed resting, accepting, and welcoming their insomnia is so that they preserve valuable energy which can be spent towards living a fuller life the next day - bringing them closer to a more fulfilling life and thus to better sleep!
Good sleep hygiene
It’s always important to make sure you’re getting the basics right, and when it comes to sleep this includes habits such as keeping a consistent bedtime schedule (including on the weekends or after a night of poor sleep), limiting caffeine consumption, and having a relaxing bedtime routine. Sleep hygiene education alone can reduce depressive symptoms in insomniacs and has been shown to be as powerful as taking antidepressants. Click here to read more about our top tips to get a good night’s sleep.
If you need help overcoming insomnia , we recommend our Sleep School for Insomnia App. It contains proven tools to help you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.