Nobody feels good after a sleepless night. Persistent insomnia can affect blood pressure, blood sugar regulation and, of course, mood. Sometimes insomnia sets off a vicious circle in which sleep deprivation makes a person depressed and depression interferes with sleep. Is there a natural sleep treatment that can help?
Overcoming Depression and Sleep Loss:
Q. My wife suffers from depression and sleep deprivation. She refuses to see a doctor or take any drugs. Are there any supplements or remedies that could help with her depression and sleep problems?
A. Sleeping problems and depression may be linked and often seem to intensify each other. The natural sleep treatment that is considered most often is melatonin. Several studies suggest benefit, although the research is not definitive (Current Treatment Options in Neurology, Sept. 2009; European Heart Journal. Cardiovascular Pharmacology, Oct., 2016). One controlled trial of 3 mg melatonin or placebo for cancer patients with insomnia found that melatonin helped them fall asleep faster and sleep better (Indian Journal of Palliative Care, Jul-Sep., 2016).
Could Melatonin Help Depression?
If melatonin could help a person re-establish good sleep patterns, it might help alleviate depression. It is considered a possible treatment for seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression linked to body clock disturbance (Psychiatria Danubina, March, 2016). A review showed that bipolar disorder, particularly the depression aspect, is also linked to body clock disruption (Sleep Medicine Reviews, online July 1, 2016). It is not clear whether using melatonin to reset the body clock would improve bipolar disorder.
Looking for Another Natural Sleep Treatment?
There are several natural sleep treatments that can be helpful without medication. One is exposure to outdoor light during the daytime. Such daytime bright light exposure even counteracts evening exposure to the blue light of a tablet (Sleep Medicine, online July 25, 2016). Adjusting sleep times and lighting also helped older subjects stay alert during simulated night shifts (Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online Aug. 25, 2016). Making such adjustments to your wife’s schedule would probably help her sleep better. She might need to consult a sleep expert to get the timing right, though.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy:
If she were willing to see a counselor, cognitive behavior therapy could help with both of her problems. Cognitive behavior therapy can alleviate depression (Behavioral Research and Therapy, online Aug. 18, 2016). It is also an effective treatment for insomnia and does not carry the risks of drug side effects (Drug Development Research, online Sept. 4, 2016).
Our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep offers many suggestions for non-drug approaches to overcoming insomnia, as well as a discussion of melatonin and other treatments.
A Reader Was Helped by Light Therapy:
One reader offered this experience:
“My doctor, a sleep specialist, told me to put four daylight lights in my bedroom. (They are also called ‘happy lights.’) Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning. Set the alarm, then turn the clock around so you can’t see it. (I used to look at the clock every hour.)
“When the alarm goes off, get up, no matter how tired you are. Turn on the daylight lamps and spend half an hour in the room. You don’t have to look at them, just be in the room with them.
“After following that regimen for two weeks, I started waking up refreshed and ready to go. I had been desperate, like a zombie during the day and dreading bedtime. This worked for me!”
You may also want to get the information about resetting the body clock that we discussed in our interview with Dr. Russell Foster.