I imagine it isn’t hard for any of you to imagine just how harmful lack of sleep can be. Because you’ve probably experienced it. Maybe you stayed up too late in college studying for a test, or you’ve been up all night with a crying baby—the next day, you probably didn’t feel so chipper, did you? I’m guessing you felt tired, cranky, unfocused, even dysfunctional instead. That’s what happens when we don’t get enough sleep. And if it can do all that after just one bad night, imagine what a pattern of late nights and inadequate sleep can do to you.
The Link Between Sleep and Depression
The relationship between sleep and depression is far from simple, but the short answer is yes: sleep and depression are related. Depression can cause sleep problems and sleep problems can also contribute to depression. In fact, difficulty sleeping and oversleeping are common symptoms of depression. (Ever heard of insomnia?)
But that’s not to say you have zero control over the role that sleep plays in your life. It’s no secret that the harmful habits we adopt ultimately wreak havoc on our lives—one of those being bad sleep hygiene, as explained by Jessica Snyder, Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist: “Much of growing to become the best, healthiest version of ourselves is about what we will do every day to move towards that goal. However, there are many things that we can avoid in order to help ourselves reach that destination. You will notice that many of the things we engage in that are harmful to our mental health are a result of too much or too little…” such as too little sleep.
“Most recommendations suggest adults should aim for 7.5 hours of sleep per night,” she explains. “Whether it is because we are unstructured in our schedule, we overindulge in social media or television, or we have a poor sleep hygiene routine, many people struggle to reach this 7.5 hour goal.” But that doesn’t take away from its importance. The time to prioritize sleep is well overdue.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene With These Easy Tips
If you’re already getting at least 7 or so hours of sleep a night, good for you! You are a model citizen. If you aren’t, however, at least meeting the bare minimum, it’s time to take another look at your sleep habits and adjust accordingly. Don’t worry—you don’t have to do it alone. Duke University’s Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm Sleep Health Expert, has some valuable tips to offer you:
- Create a bedtime routine. Having a consistent nighttime routine helps get our bodies in the mindset that it’s time for bed, which makes catching some Zzzs a breeze. Not only should we aim for 8 hours, but going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help synchronize your sleep time with your internal clock.
- Keep the devices out of the bedroom. The technology we often use before bed (computer, TV, phone, etc.) emits a harmful blue light that can actually keep us awake. Watching TV or surfing the web until you feel sleepy can disrupt the secretion of a natural sleep hormone called melatonin, leaving you to a night of restless sleeping.
- Kick the caffeine habit. Even morning caffeine can linger in your system when it’s time to sleep. Our body clears about half of the caffeine in our system every 4-7 hours. Although most coffee from breakfast is out of our system by bedtime, traces of caffeine can be present at night. Coffee, tea, dark sodas, and dark chocolates are the main offenders.
- Get moving. Daytime exercise can lead to sound nighttime sleep. If you exercise late and have difficulty falling asleep, consider moving your workout to earlier in your day. The increase in body temperature from exercise tends to be prolonged, sometimes making it hard to fall asleep.
- Shower and slumber. The body temperature drops when we fall asleep. Taking a hot nighttime shower just before bedtime artificially raises the body temperature. The subsequent fast drop can make it easier to fall asleep.