We’ve all seen them — the advertisements on TV, in magazines, and even on posters at bus-stops and pharmacies — advertisements talking about depression symptoms and the medications you can take to alleviate them.
While I do not disagree with the fact that chemical imbalances do exist and medication can help, I can’t help but wonder what role sleep — or lack thereof — is playing in this sudden increase in depression in Americans the past few years.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average amount of sleep needed by most adults in order to function optimally for most adults is between 7-9 hours. This average can vary based on a person’s individual makeup, as well as their current sleep debt. Sleep debt, in essence, is how much sleep a person is not getting, compared to how much they need. In a report done by Katie Couric, the following statistic was presented:
The National Sleep Foundation is quick to point out that nowadays we’re getting less and less [sleep]. In 2001, 38% of adults said they slept eight hours or more a night. Last year, only 26% of us were sleeping eight or more hours.
British Airways actually provides an interesting formula for figuring out what your sleep debt is. Although it’s kind of fun to figure out, results, should they be in the red, should also sober us up a bit.
I know firsthand how easy it is to complain that there aren’t enough hours in my day to get everything done, and half-jokingly, half-seriously talk about how I’d give anything for a nap or a good night’s sleep.
Somehow my to-do list each day becomes more important than getting sleep. The truth of the matter is, however, it’s that lack of sleep that may be resulting in my inability to get my list accomplished each day. Not only that, but personally, the more my sleep debt builds up, the more my struggles with depression once again creep over me.
Going back to the National Sleep Foundation, they offer the following cautions concerning not getting enough sleep:
- There is a correlation between motor vehicle accidents and drivers who have not had enough sleep.
- Those who are sleep deprived run a greater risk of being overweight. Sleepiness causes an increase in appetite.
- There is an increase in diabetes and heart problems.
- There is a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and psychiatric problems, including depression and substance abuse. (Side note: I would be interested in seeing sleep statistics for the average American over the last 15 years and depression statistics over the past 15 years. Something to ponder, to be sure!)
- Decreased ability to pay attention, focus, and concentrate on tasks.
In other words, if life seems less than optimal, one of the first aspects of our lives we need to examine is our sleep account.
An easy way to do this is to keep a sleep log for a week. Record how much sleep you are getting each 24 hour period and track it for a week. After tracking this for one week, it’s time to see how much sleep you need. Notice I didn’t say how much sleep you think you can live on, but how much sleep you need in order to live life optimally.
In order to do this, purpose to go to bed at the same time every night for a week. If possible, begin this on a night before a day when you do not have to set your alarm. Sleep until you wake up.
If possible, sleep like this for the next week, waking up naturally and without the help of an alarm clock. Record the amount of time you slept each night and how you felt during the day.
If you are bright and alert all day long then chances are, you got the amount of sleep that you need to function well. This is your particular required amount of sleep each night. Once you have determined the amount of sleep you need on average, begin to make sleep as much of a priority as the other things in your life.
Remember, actually letting yourself sleep may just result in getting more done in your waking hours than if you push yourself to go with as little as sleep as possible. As much as possible, go to bed at a regular time each night.
Allow your body to get used to the routine of a regular bedtime, which will eventually result in being able to fall asleep more easily at night. Once you eliminate your sleep debt, purposefully get up at the same time every day as well. Our bodies do well with routine, and that includes what time we go to bed and what time we get up. As tempting as it is to deviate from this routine on weekends and vacations, it’s wiser to stick with it.
Then, when your work week starts up again, your body is already in routine and doesn’t need to take 1-2 days to get back to it, during which time you get that old sluggish feeling back. Avoid stimulating activities before bed such as watching TV and exercise.
If you must participate in these things, set aside at least an hour to settle your body and your mind down. Use that hour for a warm bath or for reading. Make your bedroom a place of relaxation and comfort.
Do not bring work into the bedroom, refrain from moving a television in to it, and as much as possible, even keep marriage “discussions” out of it. Thus, when you go to your room each night, your body automatically responds to it as a place of rest instead of a place of activity.
Invest in a great mattress that you find comfortable. Same with a pillow. Having a comfortable bed will do wonders in getting adequate amounts of sleep each night. Avoid heavy meals and caffeinated beverages in the hours before bedtime.
If you can do it, cut your caffeine consumption off at lunchtime each day. Have a bedroom that is dark and quiet. If you live in a highly lit, high traffic area, this will mean heavy drapes and a white noise maker.
Keeping an atmosphere of darkness and quietness will prevent you from being roused out of needed, deep slumber several times a night.* As much as possible, quiet your heart and mind in preparation for bed. Some of us have minds that run non-stop, seeming to kick into high gear just as we’re trying to settle down for the night.
If you are one of those people, keep paper and a pen beside your bed and jot everything down in order to eliminate some of the clutter in your head. Relaxation and deep breathing exercises can also play a role in alleviating anxiety and tension that may prevent you from falling into a deep sleep each night.
Soft music is another possible sleep aid as well. Do whatever works for you. Sleep is one of the first things neglected in a busy lifestyle but one of the most crucial elements needed to make a busy lifestyle work. If you have to, schedule in sleep just like you would schedule in important appointments, and make it a goal each night to get what you need.
Pic of the Day: I think my dog just died a little bit