According to research from Georgia Southern University, getting just six hours of sleep a night – an amount many people consider acceptable if not ideal – can raise your risk of depression by a remarkable 80 percent. It may just be an hour less than the recommended seven hours, but its impact is dramatic, raising people’s risk of unpleasant feelings like nervousness, restlessness and helplessness as well.
If you’re a woman, the news is even worse, as women were found to be especially vulnerable to insomnia’s effects. When you add this to the fact that hormones already make women more likely to be depressed, it’s clearly worth making the effort to get enough sleep.
The researchers reached their conclusions after studying surveys of more than 20,000 people. The participants were asked to keep track of how many hours of sleep they got each day, and they were also asked how often during the past month they had felt restless, depressed, nervous, helpless, or otherwise unwell mentally.
This ties into findings from Binghamton University that men and women alike who don’t get sufficient sleep have trouble overcoming negative thoughts or separating themselves from disturbing emotions.
That might all sound good in theory, but devoting extra time to sleep is easier said than done for many people. What can you do if you want to stave off depression but your schedule doesn’t have a lot of leeway? A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research earlier this year, found that longer weekend sleep can help make up for the negative effects of sleep deprivation on weekdays. It’s still a good idea to find ways to fit in regular stretches of sufficient sleep throughout the week, but don’t fret if you’ve had a bad week; just try to make up for it over the weekend.
A Rush University study earlier this year found that following the DASH diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can reduce a person’s depression risk by at least 10 percent. The inverse was also found to be true, with those eating a diet full of sugar and processed foods having a higher risk of suffering from depression. Other studies have shown that consuming plenty of fresh produce can boost energy, mood and mental clarity.
Although these studies concern different potential solutions to depression, they drive home the point that lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on mental health. Indeed, the authors of the sleep study would like to see doctors taking their patients’ sleeping habits into account when they are devising a course of treatment for mental health disorders. (Related: Beat insomnia naturally.)
Antidepressants are full of negative side effects, and studies have shown they’re not terribly effective, either. One of their scariest side effects is causing suicidal thoughts, and it can’t be a mere coincidence that so many mass shooters in recent years had been taking these medications.
Unfortunately, these scary and ineffective drugs are making pharmaceutical companies and doctors a lot of money, which is why doctor-patient conversations about depression tend to be more focused on which pills can help than on which foods to eat and how much sleep to get. They’re happy to promote the mistaken belief that a healthy lifestyle can’t possibly be enough to fight serious depression and completely ignore all the studies showing how powerful these changes can be.
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