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Being unable to sleep after a long and exhausting day periodically happens to everyone. Even though our body craves rest, we’re unable to turn off the circus in our head and a good night’s snooze becomes impossible. Experts have long known that depression, anxiety and stress cause sleep troubles, but what many people don’t realize is that a consistent lack of sleep can also cause depression and anxiety.
Proper sleep is one of the main pillars of good health along with exercise and healthy eating. An estimated 40 million Americans suffer chronic, long-term sleep disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep is a public health problem.
Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome, bruxism (which is teeth grinding) and sleep apnea exacerbate the mental and physical symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
For healthcare professionals, it’s not always clear which problem started first, depression and anxiety leading to sleep issues or sleep issues that led to chronic depression and anxiety. Regardless of the origin, seeking treatment for both issues can vastly improve a person’s life.
What are 7 Ways to Get Better Sleep?
The following lifestyle choices go a long way toward easing the symptoms of lack of sleep, depression and anxiety:
Regular physical activity does wonders for the body and mind. It lowers blood pressure, bolsters the immune system and reduces the risk of injury. Simply walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day creates endorphins, a chemical in the brain associated with mood, that will decrease symptoms of depression. Research has shown that physically active people sleep longer and more deeply.
Mindful meditation is an exercise in focus and keeping the mind in the here and now. Meditating for as little as 20 minutes a day has been proven to alter alpha waves in the brain that are responsible for an aroused state to theta waves, which indicate a relaxed state. Not only does this improve mood, but also consistent meditation can help individuals take control of their own thoughts and change a racing mind to a mind at rest.
3. Healthy Eating
People who sleep four hours or less a night are more likely to have high-carb, sugary diets that provide energy boosts throughout the day, yet lack essential nutrients needed for overall strength. Healthier foods, such as lean proteins and vegetables, actually calm the nervous system and trigger sleep-inducing hormonal responses for a better night’s rest.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of therapy where people learn to identify and replace negative thought and behavior patterns with healthier, more positive ones. With sleep, this might be as simple as setting a consistent bedtime and wakeup time or ensuring a good sleep environment, a dark, cool and quiet bedroom, every night. Counselors can also use CBT to address and treat depression and anxiety, which are often the underlying causes for poor sleep.
5. Limit Caffeine, Drug or Alcohol Use
Consuming alcohol and drugs before bed provides the illusion of healthy, restful sleep. While individuals might be able to fall asleep quicker after several glasses of wine, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is essential in getting nourishing sleep, is diminished and will not lead to a refreshed feeling in the morning.
Drinking caffeine late in the day or too much throughout the day stimulates the central nervous system, making it more difficult to sleep and increasing the symptoms of anxiety.
6. Optimize the Bedroom Environment
Many things can help make the bedroom more conducive to sleep, including blackout curtains to create total darkness and reduce outside noise, setting the room temperature to cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and buying a quality mattress. To make the bed more comfortable, use cool, comfy organic cotton sheets in the summer and warm, soft flannel bedding in the winter.
7. Cut Back on Screen Time at Night
Studies have shown that the blue light emitted from televisions, computer screens and smartphones disrupts circadian rhythms and makes it difficult for people to fall asleep. It’s recommended that everyone should turn off all devices at least one hour before going to bed to help fall asleep at a regular time.
The old belief that a lack of sleep never hurt anyone has been thrown out the window. Modern medical science is very clear on the link between proper sleep and good mental and physical health. Certain illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are heightened by insufficient sleep, but in most cases, they can be effectively treated.