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Treating Depression Naturally: Establish a Sleep Schedule

| 12/17/2010 4:55:29 PM

Sleep problems go hand-in-hand with depression. Some people who have depression want to sleep constantly, while others suffer from insomnia. While the relationship between sleep and depression is still being explored, studies have shown that sleep problems often precede depression, and scientists believe that sleep deprivation can also worsen depression.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends getting an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night—a number that most Americans fall short of. Too often sleep is seen as a luxury instead of a necessity in our culture. Whether we’re working late, staying out with friends or just catching a late night TV show, most of us don’t get enough rest each night. And as sleep affects more than just our mental health—sleep deprivation has been linked to greater risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease—it would be wise to give up the slogan “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and change those habits now.

sleeping woman 
Establish a sleep schedule to ensure you're receiving at least seven hours of sleep each night. Photo By Filomena Scalise/Courtesy

While sleep is crucial to overcoming depression, establishing consistent sleeping habits is the true key. Arrange your schedule to accommodate getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Although it might be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, try to stick to your routine. Sleeping for excessive amounts of time will throw off your sleep cycle just as much as not getting enough sleep. (After a while, you’ll find it difficult to sleep in anyway!)

If you can, arrange your sleep around the patterns of the sun, as our bodies operate best when synced up with this natural cycle. Post-sunset exposure to artificial light can cause the body to produce incorrect levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, which can disturb circadian rhythms and make sleeping difficult. Seasonal Affective Disorder is also caused in part by seasonal light changes, reinforcing the connection between sleep, light and mental health.

To reduce light pollution and ensure a better night's sleep, get blackout curtains for your bedroom, unplug any electronics that might emit light during the night and shut your computer down an hour before bedtime. If you like to fall asleep to the TV, break that habit. Examine your diet as well to see if you’re consuming any foods that might keep you awake.

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