Wake Up Call – Insomnia Often Leads to Depression

Men who have difficulty falling asleep are at greater risk of depression than those who nod off easily, researchers have found.

A randomised study at the Western Australian Centre for Health and Ageing at The University of Western Australia found that difficulty falling asleep doubles the risk of depression in older men.

Sleep complaints are very common in later life with nearly 50 per cent of people older than 65 years reporting trouble falling or remaining asleep.

UWA Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry and Director of Research at the Western Australian Centre for Health and Ageing, Winthrop Professor Osvaldo Almeida didn’t expect such a strong result and says their findings took them by suprise.

“We found a strong link between difficulty falling asleep and depression which cannot be explained adequately by reverse causality that is, that depression causes insomnia. We didn’t expect to find this result…”

“Excuse the pun, but our results are a wakeup call. I believe that clarifying what drives the association between sleep problems and depression should become an international research priority.”

“Worryingly, our results are consistent with the possibility that the use of sleeping tablets is actually driving this increase in the risk of depression. Addressing this issue may guide the development of prevention strategies to decrease the burden of depression in our society.”

“Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and affects between 5 and 15 per cent of adults over 65. People need to be aware that depression is not a normal part of ageing.”

“Sleep is just as important to our physical and emotional health in our senior years as it was when we were younger. Nevertheless, some changes in your sleep are natural as you age.”

The study found that of the 5,127 men taking part, 60 per cent complained of poor sleep. Eighteen per cent of these reported difficulty in falling asleep, 10 per cent remained awake and 72 per cent reported early morning awakening.

This research was part of the Health In Men Study (HIMS) that has been following a group of men living in Perth, Western Australia since 1996. HIMS is the largest study of ageing men in Australia.

“The study included only men,” Professor Almeida said, “though it is very likely that women will experience the same sleep disturbances, however further studies will be needed to confirm this.”

The new study is published in this month’s edition of Journal of Affective Disorders.


Emed’s Comment:

To promote good sleep, older men and indeed everyone should pay particular attention to their pre-bedtime diet.

The best thing to do is minimise liquid intake before sleep: avoid coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate late in the day.

Don’t use alcohol as a sleeping aid. Exercise regularly. Make your bedroom quiet and dark and avoid watching TV in bed.

If possible, keep a regular bedtime routine.

And most importantly, steer clear of taking sleeping pills for long periods of time.

Think of it this way:

We evolved along with the rhythms of day and night. These rhythms signal a whole cascade of hormonal and neurochemical reactions that keep us healthy by repairing our DNA, building tissues and muscle, and regulating weight and mood chemicals.

However, in todays society, we have created a number of unhealthy habits, activities, and are surrounded by stimuli that are continuously interfering with this delicate biological rhythm, so crucial to optimal health and wellbeing.

When you are sleep deprived, your stress hormone cortisol rises. And too much cortisol is not a good thing.

Excess cortisol can have harmful effects on your body and increase risk factors for many diseases, including brain damage and dementia, weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis, depressed immunity, and more.

The reality is that most of us need at least eight hours of restful sleep a night. But meeting this goal has become more and more difficult. Partially because good sleep is not something that just happens. There are clearly defined things that interfere with or support healthy sleep.

Sleep needs to become a priorityfor repair, rejuvenation, detoxificationand of course, rest!

These days our lives are infiltrated with stimuli, and we often stay stimulated until the moment we get into bed.

It’s no wonder we can’t sleep well when we eat late dinners, answer emails, surf the Internet, watch TV in bed, or do work, and then expect to drift off into a restful sleep.

Instead we must implement what’s known as “sleep hygiene”. Creating a sleep ritual – a special set of little things you do before bed to help prepare your body physically and psychologically for sleep – can then guide your body into a deep, healing sleep.

Tips to help you Rest Easy!

  • Practice the regular rhythmsof sleep – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Use your bed for sleep only- not television, late night work, internet surfing etc.
  • Create an aesthetic environment that encourages sleep – use serene and restful colours and eliminate clutter and distraction
  • Create total darknessand quiet – consider using eyeshades and earplugs
  • Avoid caffeine, especially late in the day 
  • Avoid alcohol – it may help you get to sleep but it actually causes interruptions in sleep and poor-quality sleep
  • Try and expose yourself to at least 20 minutes of daylight each day – the light from the sun enters your eyes and triggers your brain to release specific chemicals and hormones that are vital to your body’s rhythms
  • Eat no later than three hours before bed – eating a heavy meal prior to bed can lead to a bad night’s sleep
  • Don’t exercise vigorously just before bed – it excites the body and makes it more difficult to get to sleep
  • Write your worries down – one hour before bed, write down the things that are causing you anxiety and make plans for what you might have to do the next day to reduce your worry. It will free up your mind and energy to move into a deep and restful sleep
  • Take a hot Epsom salt aromatherapy bath – raising your body temperature before bed helps to induce sleep. A hot bath also relaxes your muscles and reduces tension physically and psychologically. By adding one-and-a-half to one cup of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) to your bath, you will gain the benefits of magnesium absorbed through your skin which can help with sleep
  • Get a massage or stretchbefore bed – this helps relax the body making it easier to fall asleep
  • Warm your middle – this raises your core temperature and helps trigger the proper chemistry for sleep. Either a hot water bottle, Flexeze Patch, or warm body can do the trick
  • Avoid medications that interfere with sleep – these include sedatives (which are used to treat insomnia but ultimately lead to dependence and disruption of normal sleep rhythms and architecture), antihistamines, stimulants, cold medication, steroids, and headache medication that contains caffeine
  • Use herbal therapies – try passionflower, magnolia, zizyphus or valerianroot extract one hour before bed, see below for some product ideas
  • Take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium before bed – this relaxes the nervous system and muscles
  • Get a relaxation, meditationor guided imagery CD – any of these may help you get to sleep


image-happy-personRecommended Products:

Ditch those habit forming sleeping tablets that knock you out and leave you feeling drowsy and out of it the next day.

Here are some natural remedies to help you sleep well. Sweet Dreams!

If after a couple of months you are still having trouble sleeping, you should be evaluated by your health care practitioner for other problems that can interfere with sleep, including food sensitivities, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, pain syndromes, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, and, of course, stress and depression. Also, consider getting tested for a sleep disorder.

Further Reading: