Answers to Major Depression (3): Depression and Sleep – “Heart-to-Heart: Loving Community” Series

When depression causes insomnia, what are some of the ways that can help adjust mood and effectively relieve sleeplessness?

When people are depressed, they may experience sleeplessness due to worries and anxieties. To solve the issue of insomnia, there are several things one can try. First, be aware of and adjust the environment before going to bed. For example, the light in the bedroom should not be too bright; do not place too many things on the bedside; keep the room clean and tidy, etc. Second, only go to bed when you want to sleep and don’t do other things in bed that are not related to sleeping. If you still can’t fall asleep after lying in bed for 10-15 minutes, get up and do other things to divert your attention, such as reading. It will be easier to fall asleep once you get tired from reading. If too many things are running in your mind, causing you stress or even anxiety, you can record what’s on your mind in writing to calm yourself down before going to bed. Choose pillows with scents of fresh leaves or plants as those can also help you relax. Finally, dimming the lights, listening to soft music, and drinking a glass of milk before going to bed can all help improve sleep.

If you feel anxious and can’t sleep, there are ways to help relax. First, tighten your muscles from head to toe, counting “1234,” and then release. This will help relax your muscles in each part of the body. Then, add some deep breathing, or abdominal breathing, with slow inhalation and exhalation which can help relax the whole body. Counting sheep, or counting down from one hundred like “100.99.98…” is also helpful for some people. When you feel exhausted from counting, you will naturally fall asleep. In addition, you can also try the mind-drawing method: when lying in bed, imagine a place that you like and makes you feel comfortable, such as the beach, then feel the fresh air and nearby environment. By forming an image in your mind and putting yourself in that setting, it will make you feel warm and relaxed.

Serotonin, which is closely related to mood, can help stabilize your moods and make people feel happy. Antidepressants contain serotonin and are used to relieve emotional stress. Some foods can also help improve sleep. Generally speaking, milk contains serine, which helps promote the chemical ions of serotonin and thus promotes sleep; bananas contain vitamin E6, which helps the brain produce serotonin and helps insomnia and lessens worry. Green vegetables and fruits are also very helpful, such as spinach, which contains folic acid. Folic acid can help soothe the mind, improve sleep, and is helpful for depression or early dementia. Chocolate contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6, which can help people resist fatigue and improve depression symptoms and make people feel happy. Fish oil and fatty acids also help fight depression and increase serotonin. Having appropriate carbohydrate foods for dinner, such as whole wheat bread, whole grains, steamed buns, pasta, snacks, etc., will also make people feel full. Moderate intake of the above foods can increase serotonin, but it should not be eaten in excess. Especially when taking antidepressants, you should consult a doctor to appropriately adjust your diet.

Content provided by: Dr. Agnes Ip, Ph.D., LMFT

*The content of this article was adapted from Dr. Agnes Ip’s interview with “Hear and See” organization.

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