Getting Sleep in Spite of Depression or Anxiety

When we think of depression, we might imagine sleeping a lot and having a hard time getting out of bed and facing the day. But it can often mean the opposite—being unable to get enough badly needed sleep. The same is true with anxiety. We can keep ourselves awake with worry or a vague restlessness can keep slumber just out of reach. 

Research confirms how vital good rest is for mental and physical health, in spite of our modern lifestyle of energy drinks, 24/7 connectivity, binge-watching and bragging about how little sleep we can live on. Even if you are not already struggling with either of these conditions, skimp on visiting slumberland long enough and depression will come knocking on your door, with anxiety likely not far behind.

If wakefulness is plaguing you, let’s review some of the basics that promote a restful sleep:

  • Get some exercise—but not too late in the day. Regular workouts or even just a daily brisk walk will relieve stress and then later facilitate sleep. Finish 90 minutes before bedtime so its energizing effects won’t postpone shuteye.  
  • Avoid coffee colas and energy drinks after noon. Even after 6 hours, half the caffeine is still in your system, so a 4pm espresso can still be haunting you at 10pm. 
  • Alcohol is a culprit too. It can make you sleepy at first but leave you wide-eyed in the middle of the night. It blocks REM sleep, the most refreshing kind, so you wake up feeling unrested. And it aggravates snoring and sleep apnea.
  • Develop a bedtime routine to signal the body to get ready to shut down. Turn off most lights, take a shower, change into sleep clothes and sip herbal tea. Listen to soothing music or a relaxing podcast. Diffuse lavender or other relaxing scents into the air.
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule even on weekends to keep body rhythms on an even keel, and avoid more than very brief naps during the day.
  • Discipline yourself to avoid screens—phones, tablets and TVs—at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light inhibits production of the natural sleep-maker, melatonin, and resets your body’s inner clock to a later bedtime. Like alcohol, this light also interferes with REM so you wake up feeling groggier. Avoid LED and fluorescents, too—same problem. Go old school and read a book. If you must work on your laptop at night, dim the screen or use settings to warm the color of the light. 
  • End that large meal two hours before sleep time. A late light snack like an apple might be helpful, though. 
  • Use the bed only for sleep and lovemaking, so it becomes associated with rest.
  • Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Try earplugs or a white noise machine or app to prevent intermittent noises from keeping you up or disrupting deep sleep. Eyelids alone don’t block light, so use an eye mask or opaque window shades. Turn that digital clock away from view. Not only is the light problematic, but you don’t want to focus on the time and start worrying about how much sleep you are getting.
  • Keep things well ventilated—open that window or turn on that fan and keep warm with blankets as needed. The best temperature is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Try freezing a soft gel pack and slip it into your pillowcase to cool the scalp. 
  • Chamomile tea is a proven sleep aid. Make it strong and cover the cup to retain the oils. B-vitamins, and certain mineral, amino acid and herbal supplements are also effective to facilitate rest and combat insomnia (like this formula). 
  • Keep Bruno or Fluffy out of your bedroom if they disturb your rest. Even their resting body on the bed can inhibit you from freely moving about as you need to while asleep.
  • Wind down any focused task an hour before sleep, so your mind can get ready for rest. Same with any discussions of emotional topics. 
  • If basically calm but still awake after 30 to 60 minutes, consider getting out of bed and going to another room—you don’t want to lay awake so long that you come to associate the bed with sleep difficulty. 
  • Distract yourself with a quiet activity like light reading or coloring until you are sleepy. 

(What to do if you can’t stop worrying or reliving distressing moments from the day? Good question. That’s for part two of this blog.)

A key point is not to obsess about getting enough sleep or get impatient and give up after just a few hours. Worse comes to worse, let yourself lie and rest the eyes and aim for an unfocused reverie to give the brain a break for as long as you can. That can be good enough. 

Overcoming depression and/or anxiety requires a multi-faceted, whole-person approach, but optimizing sleep is certainly foundational. As Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of Hope, points out, these disorders and “sleep deficits are unarguably entwined. Yet in that interwoven relationship lie opportunities for treatment, relief, and healing.” Enhance your sleep and symptoms inevitably improve.

Written by John R. Williams, MA LMHC for the The Center • A Place of HOPE. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or stress, our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in the treatment of depression and has been voted a Top 10 U.S. Depressions Treatment Center.  We use a whole-person approach that allows you to discover what is truly going on in your mind, body, and spirit.