Depression Related Insomnia and What to Do About It

Patient Expert

For reasons we don't fully understand, sleep disturbances are a hallmark of clinical depression. Many depression sufferers find their hours spent in bed lengthening and have trouble getting out of bed, but for others, it's impossible to get anything close to sufficient sleep.

Some individuals tormented by insomnia have trouble falling asleep. Others fall asleep easily enough, but can't remain asleep for more than a few hours. Since the phases of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep grow progressively longer during the sleep cycle, it's essential to get enough of it each night.

Unfortunately, lack of sleep due to depression is insult added to injury. Insomnia can actually cause depression in people who are not already suffering from the mood disorder, so as you can imagine, lack of sleep in someone who's suffering from clinical depression is detrimental.

If you are suffering from depression-related insomnia, chances are pretty good that the situation won't improve substantially until your depression is successfully treated. However, that doesn't mean that you're helpless to improve the situation.

First, even if your insomnia is new since you became depressed, you might want to see a sleep specialist to rule out sleep disturbances that you are not aware of, like sleep apnea.

In addition, below are some suggestions to help you improve your chances of falling asleep and staying asleep.

In general:

  • Check your current medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to make sure that none of them have insomnia as a side effect. Some of these are thyroid medications, asthma medication, some hypertension drugs, nasal decongestants and medications containing scopolamine. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list - just a sampling.
  • Curtail your consumption of alcohol, smoking and caffeine - even during the day. Caffeine and nicotine can remain in your body for hours.
  • Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. If you engage in other activities like reading, watching television, eating, etc. in bed, your mind will not associate it as strongly with sleep.
  • Keep your sleep schedule and number of hours regular. Don't go to bed and get up later on weekends.

If you have trouble falling asleep:

  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine such as yoga, deep breathing or a warm bath.
  • Go to bed when you are so tired that you feel you could fall asleep easily. If you do not, leave the bedroom and engage in some quiet activity until you are very sleepy, at which point you return to bed. Repeat as many times as necessary until you fall asleep.

If you can't stay asleep:

  • Similar to the method for falling asleep initially, you want to get out of bed. Engage in some quiet activity till you are sleepy, and then return to bed.
  • Drink warm milk with some anise seed. You can make a tea of the anise seed by boiling it with water and then straining it before mixing it with warm milk, or you can just heat the milk with the anise seeds already added.