One of the most common symptoms of depression is insomnia. I know how it feels to go night upon night with no more than an hour or two in a light, disturbed sleep. In fact I am writing this post at 02.30am having slept for my allotted 4 hours.
This does nothing to help my recovery from depression, and when you are trying to work, look after yourself and your family, there is nothing worse than starting off the day on the back foot. Insomnia comes in many disguises and mine means that I am able to fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow but wake after only 4 hours of shut-eye. Some people however just can’t drop off at all. With the little sleep I get if I don’t take my sleeping tablets I am irritable and increasingly stressed and so most nights I take medication that helps me stay asleep. Whilst the tablets undoubtedly work, they can leave me with a fuzzy head in the morning and it can take me a while to come round fully.
There are many things you can do to improve your quality of sleep. Here are a few ideas which you can start with, before consulting your GP for further assistance;
- establish fixed times for going to bed and waking up (and avoid sleeping in after a poor night’s sleep),
- try to relax before going to bed,
- maintain a comfortable sleeping environment (not too hot, cold, noisy or bright),
- avoid napping during the day,
- avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol within six hours of going to bed,
- avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise earlier in the day is beneficial),
- avoid eating a heavy meal late at night,
- avoid watching or checking the clock throughout the night, and
- only use the bedroom for sleep and sex.
If you have tried self-help and you are still experiencing problems sleeping, consult your GP who may recommend the following treatments (NHS Choices);
- Stimulus-control therapy, which aims to help you associate the bedroom with sleep and establish a consistent sleep/wake pattern.
- Sleep restriction therapy, where you limit the amount of time spent in bed to the actual amount of time spent asleep, creating mild sleep deprivation. Sleep time is then increased as your sleeping improves.
- Relaxation training, which aims to reduce tension or minimise intrusive thoughts that may interfere with sleep.
- Paradoxical intention, which means you try to stay awake and avoid any intention to fall asleep. It is only used if you have trouble getting to sleep, but not maintaining sleep.
- Biofeedback, where sensors connected to a machine are placed on your body to measure body responses like muscle tension or heart rate. The machine then produces pictures or sounds to help you control your breathing and body responses.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to examine and change your beliefs and attitudes about insomnia (see What does CBT for insomnia)
There is nothing worse than sleep deprivation and it is more common that you think so if you need help with your sleep, seek advice.