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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If you're depressed, consider sleep.

Or at least evaluate your sleeping habits.

Poor sleep is probably a substantial factor in causing depression. It may also make other problems worse, like anxiety, ADD, and bipolar disorder.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of studies on the importance of sleep. A few recent studies continue to show the importance of getting good sleep.

1) Light at night may change your brain chemistry in a way that can make you feel depressed. A study by Ohio State University doctoral student Tracy Bedrosian showed that hamsters demonstrated behavior changes when they were exposed to the equivalent of TV light (5 lux) over 8 weeks. (okay - hamsters are not human, but all mammals share nearly identical brain structure and chemistry, and anyway, would you volunteer for an 8 week sleep study?). Actual differences in brain structure were noted in a part of the brain called the Hippocampus. The spines of the dendrites were found to be far less dense in the light-exposed hamsters. The Hippocampus is important in many functions, including memory formation and retrieval, and it is one of the only parts of the brain where new nerve cells can be generated. The light may prevent Melatonin from being released and actually promote the continued release of Cortisol which has been found to degrade the Hippocampus. Cortisol usually peaks early in the day, while Melatonin peaks early in the night. Even dim light may cause this system to work improperly with serious effects.

2) Sleep deprivation is linked to depression in teens. Dr. Siddique, a sleep medicine specialist from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, studied 262 high school students. He found that over 50% of these students were excessively sleepy during the day (averaging 6 hours a night instead of the 9 hours which are needed). The rate of depression for the students with 6 hours of sleep was 30% - that's very high. With any study, it does not prove cause and affect. However, you can experiment on yourself. Get 6 hours sleep a night for 8 weeks and see how happy and productive you are compared to when you get 8 hours sleep. It's a double insult for teens - they need sleep for growth and development as well as for memory and immune system function.

3) A study of 21,000 Australians between ages 17 and 24 indicated that those who had less than 8 hours of sleep reported significantly higher rates of serious mental distress, such as serious depression or anxiety. For each hour of missed sleep, the risk of mental distress increased by 14%. That's a huge correlation between poor sleep and increased symptoms. Again, this does not indicate cause and affect. Certainly, people lose sleep when they are distressed, and people may be distressed easier when they are getting less sleep.
There's a lot to be said about sleep. But, in the last ten years, there's so much research to indicate that getting good sleep is related to depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease. 

In many respects, what's good for the heart 
seems to be good for the brain and what is good for the brain 
seems to be good for the heart.

Mental Health Advice Disclaimer
The information included in this post and blog are for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional mental health treatment or medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her mental health provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a mental health or medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a therapist-patient relationship.

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