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Why Depression, Anxiety And Poor Sleep Are Linked
January 23, 2018 donecountingsheep

Why Depression, Anxiety And Poor Sleep Are Linked

Posted in Sleep Problems
stylised image representing the insomnia, depression and anxiety triangle

Depression, Anxiety And Poor Sleep Are Linked.  FACT.

Failing to get enough good quality sleep contributes to the development of depression and anxiety disorders as well as reducing the effectiveness for the treatment of these disorders. Good sleep is central to good mental health.

Poor Sleep Leads to Problems

According to the Great British Sleep survey in 2012, if you are a poor sleeper you are:

  • 7 times more likely to feel helpless
  • 5 times more likely to feel alone
  • 3 times more likely to struggle to concentrate
  • Twice as likely to have relationship problems
  • Twice as likely to suffer from low mood
  • Twice as likely to struggle to be productive

Not to mention the dangerous and sometimes fatal accidents that result from lack of sleep.

Insomnia is a 21st century epidemic with over half the population not getting the quality shut-eye that they should.

Sleep Isn’t A Lifestyle Choice – It’s A Biological Must-Have

A group of researchers have recently been awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering that our body clock, our circadian rhythm, is encoded in our very genes. We are hardwired for sleep! So it puzzles me that some people see sleep as a waste of precious time; this is a risky belief (for all the reasons stated above).

As a former Nobel prize winner, Sir Paul Nurse, said: “Every living organism on this planet responds to the Sun. We on this planet are slaves to the Sun. The circadian clock is embedded in our mechanisms of working, our metabolism, it’s embedded everywhere. It’s a real core feature for understanding life.”

We cannot step outside of our circadian rhythm, as set by the sun, and not feel the consequences.

Anxiety, Depression and The Brain Detox

So why is there such a strong connection between insomnia, anxiety and depression?

Part of the answer to that question became clearer in 2013 when it was discovered that during deep sleep, our brain goes into a literal rinse-cycle or a deep clean. This miraculous event is able to happen because as we sleep brain cells shrink by up to 60%, creating space between the cells to literally flush away debris in the cerebrospinal fluid and out of the brain. OUR BRAINS DETOXIFY AS WE SLEEP. We are simply not going to feel refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges of a new day in the same way if we do not sleep well.

We feel fatigued when we don’t sleep and a feeling of fatigue can lead to a low mood. We may feel more anxious too because we feel less able to face the challenges ahead of us. We may feel more anxious and low because we feel alone in the vulnerability caused by lack of sleep. We need to feel strong in order to not feel helpless.

In Mensa Corpore Sane – Health Body, Healthy Mind AND Good Sleep

I have treated so many people who were depressed, anxious or even paranoid because they were not well nourished and well rested. If you are robust and well you can often view your circumstances in a totally different way. Your perspective changes. Insurmountable challenges suddenly become manageable, and often the way forward is seen more clearly.  I have seen people go from debilitating anxiety to having a new lease for life in just days. I have also seen and personally experienced, insomnia being “cured” in just a matter of days. The way you feel today is not set in stone. Life can change for the better very quickly.

Sleep – and especially good quality sleep – is not an option or a lifestyle choice.  According to our genes and according to our nightly brain detox we have a definite biological NEED for sleep.

But what about the problems that can lead to insomnia in the first place? Can they contribute to anxiety and depression too?

In my opinion the answer is a definite “YES”.

The Top Five Issues Keeping Us Awake

1.  Raised stress hormones

The body responds to biological (including low blood sugar or nutritional deficiencies) or emotional stress by raising stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. When these hormones are raised at the night they interfere with sleep. Chronically raised stress hormones can result in anxiety and depression. But help is at hand! Adaptogens reduce the stress response and normalise physiology, allowing rest and repair and protecting the body from the harmful effects of stress. To learn how adaptogens could help you read our blog on the subject.

2.  Low Carbohydrates and Protein Deficiency

A good nutritional diet is essential for good sleep and good mood. Protein deficiency causes the body to release extra cortisol to breakdown bodily proteins such as the muscles in order to supply the vital organs of amino acids. High cortisol at night is associated with disturbed sleep and consequently mood disorders. Is is estimated that we need about 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram of weight. Or somewhere between 50 and 75 grams of protein per day depending on factors such a muscle mass and physical activity. Protein can be made up with eggs, fish, dairy, meat, lentils (pre-soaked), cooked mushrooms and potatoes.

A lack of carbohydrates throughout the day will lead to low glycogen stores at night, the source of fuel stored in your liver that helps to give you 8 hours of sleep. Carbohyrate needs vary greatly depending on activity and metabolism. Some scientists have suggested that the minimum carbohydrate intake per day should be 150g. Some need a lot more and some need less due to a low metabolic rate. Cronometer is an excellent site to help you work out your calorie and nutritional needs.

Factors leading to insomnia can be different and many for each individual but the first question to be asked is, “are you nourished?” What you eat builds the foundation of your health and if you eat right, it produces a nice and relaxed nervous system too.

To read more about the effects of low carbohydrate diets on sleep and mood, read this blog post.

3.  A magnesium deficiency can lead to insomnia but it can also cause anxiety and depression

It has been estimated that around two thirds of the population are magnesium deficient. Are you one of them?

In an article entitled ‘Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment’ published in Medical Hypothesis 2006 it concludes with

It is likely that magnesium deficiency causes most major depression and related mental health illnesses, IQ loss and addictions. We suggest that magnesium deficiency as cause of these disorders is enormously important to public health and is recommended for immediate, wide-spread further study. The public should be advised to obtain more than 600 mg of dietary magnesium a day…”

Read this blog if you want to know if you’re magnesium deficient. If you are then this is the best magnesium supplement I can recommend to you.

4.  Poor Thyroid Function = Poor Sleep

An underactive thyroid can lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression. In fact, it may seem paradoxical that a generally under-energised person with hypothyroidism could have trouble sleeping but a wonderful doctor, Dr Broda Barnes, discovered some hypothyroid people can produce up to 40 times more adrenaline than normal as a compensatory reaction, the consequences of which can be insomnia and anxiety.

5.  Problems Unshared or Unburdened

Carrying unshared worries can lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression. We were created to be a part of a community, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. However, if you find yourself in a position right now of not knowing who or how to share your problems you can start by writing them down. That simply means to list them or describe them and empty them out of “YOU”, your heart and your mind and dump them onto the paper. What you do with that bit of paper is up to you. You could start a book or burn it in the fire. The job is done – you expressed yourself. But keep on expressing yourself in this way so that your head does not chatter away all night trying to deal with these unexpressed feelings and thoughts.

These are just some examples of why insomnia, depression and anxiety can be interlinked and they are by no means exhaustive.  But before I move onto what can help break the insomnia-anxiety-depression triangle, I can’t miss out a key sleep suppressant without mentioning blue light.  Quick question: Are you  watching screens or working on computers, phones and tablets late in the evening?  If so, then you are either delaying or preventing your brain detox because the blue/green light of your screens is suppressing your sleep hormone, melatonin, pushing you past your natural bed-time.  My advice is to stop screen-time by nine at least to allow your body a good hour to prepare for your natural bed-time, the time your body wants you to rest which for most of us is 10pm.

Herbs Have a Real Role In Treating Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Disorders

Herbs have a real role in treating sleep disorders as well as anxiety and depression. I must emphasise this because for a lot of people herbs are not even considered as an option. However, I have met a director of a pharmaceutical company who invited me to give a talk in Copenhagen because he had seen the studies which showed St John’s Wort to be as effective as, or more than, the commonly prescribed antidepressant, Citalopram.  Added to that, clinical trials have found that adaptogens have a role in reducing general anxiety, alleviating mild to moderate depression and reducing the effects of stress.

Help Is Close At Hand

So what can you do right now?  You may have a very simple solution to anxiety in your kitchen cupboard. Chamomile tea can have antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. And – it can help you sleep!  Try making a few strong cups through the day (2 teabags per cup) and again before bed with some added honey.  This is the Chamomile tea recipe I recommend to clients.

The bottom line here is that if you are experiencing insomnia, anxiety or depression, you have natural options to explore, that don’t cost the earth and won’t harm your health.


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