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The Power of Sleep & How to Lift Depression

Adequate sleep is scientifically proven to help lift depression. Words by Bronte Le Marquand


We dream as a way of discharging emotionally arousing introspections from the previous day that have not been expressed. Have you ever heard the saying that one should not go to bed in an argument? It isn't necessarily for your relationships' sake but for your sleep quality. Typically, one will process the previous day's events during an adequate amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, leaving their body and mind to repair during the remaining restorative sleep cycle and wake up feeling refreshed, energised and ready for a new day. REM sleep is a unique phase of sleep that only occurs in mammals and birds. It is characterised by a random rapid movement of the eyes, accompanied by low muscle tone throughout the body and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly.

 

The majority of depressed people have disturbed REM sleep and wake up exhausted and unable to motivate or activate themselves. Although depression holds the criteria of a loss of pleasure or interest in usual activities, loss of energy, low mood and psychomotor retardation, depressed people actually have very high levels of physiological arousal. With depression comes a lot of negative thinking due to its close relationship with anxiety, agitation, rumination, tearfulness, substance abuse and recurrent thoughts of death and suicide.

As depressed people are excessively negatively introspecting, they inevitably have much higher levels of physiological arousal to be discharged. Emotional arousal automatically forces the brain into a reactive, black-and-white way of thinking, reducing its ability to think more subtly and objectively. So, typically, after a setback, someone with a more pessimistic outlook will inevitably catastrophise their interpretations of life events and excessively introspect about their interpretations. This puts excessive pressure on the dreaming process, distorting the REM sleep system and causing an excessive autonomic arousal discharge, which leads to physical exhaustion, a depletion of motivation and subsequent depression.

 

Therefore, depressed people tend to have very vivid dreams, so vivid at times that one is woken up or disturbed by the dream. This is an example as to how the REM sleep system is working in overdrive to discharge the high levels of arousal from the day before, leaving little time for the body and mind to rejuvenate themselves during their restorative sleep cycle, which consists of both deep and light cycles of sleep. As a result, depressed people will wake up feeling exhausted, unmotivated and depleted, as sub-consciously, their sleep cycle has been disturbed by intense and prolonged dreaming.

 

This is where one finds themselves stuck in a vicious cycle of depression, which goes like this:

1. One or more of your emotional needs are currently not being met.

2. Due to this, you might start to feel that something is "wrong".

3. This leads you to feel emotionally aroused, i.e., catastrophising or thinking in a black and white pattern.

4. Questions about why or what if begin to ruminate.

5. Sleep cycle is disturbed as REM sleep is prolonged and working in overdrive to discharge excessive autonomic arousal.

6. Wake up feeling exhausted and lacking in motivation, fuelling number 1 and starting the cycle again. The cycle will continue until the dreaming (REM) process is normalised.

Therefore, the most effective way to break the cycle of depression is to lower emotional arousal and stop negative emotional introspections as quickly as possible. Simple ways to reduce your physiological arousal are by practising deep relaxation exercises, also known as meditation. Practising either first thing in the morning or just before you go to bed would be particularly useful.

 

There is a brilliant exercise called 7:11 breathing, which calms the nervous system down.

Breathe in for 7 seconds and breathe out for 11 seconds. Link your hands and gently place them on your belly as you focus on the movement of your breath as if your belly were a beach ball being inflated and then deflated. Repeat this exercise as many times as necessary as you begin to notice how deeply relaxed you feel. However, if this feels like a difficult length for you, then breathing in for 3 and out for 5 could be a beneficial alternative.

 

If breathing exercises do not feel right for you, there are plenty of other methods that you can refer to:

• Make a list of your five best attributes.

• Make a list of your five proudest achievements.

• Ask your friends to politely avoid discussing negative life events and instead focus on discussing positive past, present, and future life events.

• Write a list of happy thoughts and experiences, however small, that happen each day.

• Reflect on positive memories that you can vividly re-imagine, using the 54321 method, identifying 5 things you could see, 4 things you could touch, 3 things you could hear, 2 things you could smell and 1 thing you could taste (if accessible).

 

If you're currently struggling with depression, please do reach out. You have the power to lift your depression and are deserving of a happy life despite the adversities it can throw at us at times. Equally, helplines such as Mind Jersey (01534 445290) and Samaritans (116 123) are available 24/7 if you need immediate support.

 

 

ABOUT BRONTE

 

Bronte Le Marquand is a globally accredited Transformational Life Coach (ICF approved) and Psychotherapist (in training with Human Givens Institute).

 

Having navigated through the challenges of grief, severe anxiety and burnout several years ago, she has embarked on her own journey of self-discovery and personal growth and has since launched 'Aeloria Therapy' to embody compassion-focused therapy, tailored life coaching, evidence-based tools, and a unique support package personalised to help you achieve your goals.

 

If you are curious about how Bronte can best support you, email bronte.coaching@gmail.com for more information or to book a complimentary session.

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