It’s a classic chicken or egg question, does depression make you tired, or does being tired cause depression? The simple answer to this question is yes and yes. Taking it a step further, I employ the “both/and” strategy, which is to say that they are both true and not mutually exclusive of each other. But that’s the simple part. The real question is how and why.
We all know that one of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue. There are a few key reasons for that which include increased stress, sleep disturbances, and poor diet, among others. And when you are tired, you lack the energy to do the very things you need to do to kick the depression out of your life.
One of the ways I describe depression is a “low mood” that refers not only to your emotional state but also your overall energy levels, which is depleted and lacking the “get up and go” attitude needed to deal with depression. And so begins the vicious cycle between decreasing energy and increasing depression. How you interrupt this cycle will be the focus of this article. I will explain how depression makes you tired, and give you a few tips to help correct this problem.
The Relationship Between Sleep and Depression
One of the telltale signs of depression is poor sleep. It might be due to chronic insomnia or because life demands and choices have you putting sleep on the backburner, which translates into sleep deprivation. The mere fact that you are sleep deprived places you at greater risk of having depression either presently or in the future.
Research has found that three-quarters of those who suffer from depression also have some form of sleep disturbance, meaning the links are undeniable. Additionally, the research has shown that those who are not depressed and suffer from insomnia have an increased risk of depression later in life. Suffice it to say that poor sleep means a decreased quality of life and increased likelihood of experiencing depression.
I have heard it said too many times, “I will sleep when I am dead”, but the truth of it is that if you don’t have good sleep hygiene, then that eventuality of death might come that much sooner. Insufficient sleep over an extended period will cost you dearly. It might come in the form of depression or increased risk for accidents and chronic illness, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Naturally, the busy, hectic pace of life forces you to cut out the things you think of as being dispensable or won’t cost you much at the moment. What if you saw sleep as “non-negotiable” as you see many other commitments in life? This is not meant to be harsh criticism, but it is meant to get you thinking about your life choices.
We have all been there. We’ve sacrificed sleep to accomplish a goal or task, but if you find yourself doing that too often, it might be time to re-evaluate your time management. Life is, after all, a series of choices, and the choices we make are driven by our priorities.
Easy Strategies to Improve Sleep
Here are a few simple ways you can develop healthy sleep hygiene:
Figure out how many hours of sleep you need to feel and be your best. You can do this by tracking some data. A simple note with the hours of sleep you get and how you feel the next day for a week or two can be very revealing.
The next step is to count backward from the time that you need to wake up and figure out the time you need to go to sleep to get X number of hours per night. Make it your non-negotiable, fixed bedtime.
If there is noise in your home environment, use a white noise machine or earplugs to help you get the hours of sound sleep you need. An eye mask can also be helpful if there are lights that could wake you up.
The Stress Factor
Of course, sleep and stress are related as well. When the body is stressed, there is an increased amount of cortisol flowing through your body, which means that you will not be able to sleep well as if you are stressed. The stress hormone, cortisol, is meant to give you the energy to survive. It puts you into the “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction. This stimulates your brain and many of the emergency response systems in your body that naturally prevents a restful state, as it is just the opposite of what is needed to survive.
When living in chronically stressful situations, such as situations of abuse, financial strain, or with environmental factors, such as high crime rates and violence, the constant flow of cortisol will impact not just your overall functioning but brain function as well. We see this with students and the challenges in school when coming from unstable home and community environments.
Tips on How to Reduce Stress in Your Life
You won’t be able to avoid stress altogether in your life, but one thing you can do is to ensure that the coping skills are there to counter the stress, which boils down to a good self-care routine. Some simple examples are:
Make sure you get sufficient social and emotional support.
Stay active. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym regularly. Just a brisk walk can be enough to get some endorphins flowing, which will give you that natural good vibe feeling.
Get enough outdoor time to help with increasing vitamin D in your body.
Take a break throughout your day, i.e. taking your lunch.
Treat yourself to something that you enjoy—a good massage, an evening with your faith community, or putting on a favorite movie.
Nutrition Is Key
Truer words were never said, “you are what you eat”. If you make healthy choices for your diet, you will have a better chance of feeling better physically, which will impact how you feel emotionally and therefore more energetic.
Additionally, foods that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to support mental health. It is thought that it is in part due to it being an anti-inflammatory as well as the fatty acids, DHA, and EPA, which are found to be much lower in those who are depressed when compared to those who are not depressed. Omega-3s will not necessarily cure your depression, but they could be helpful, and they are known to be components of a healthy diet.
Following the rules of a good general diet will also benefit your energy levels, which will help you combat depression. Carbohydrates, sugars, trans fats, and saturated fats—yes, all the good stuff—will often leave you feeling lethargic, bloated, and generally blah Try your best to choose fresh fruits and veggies with the framework of a Mediterranean diet in mind, and see how you feel after a few days.
Tips on Eating a Healthy, Well-Rounded Diet
Make sure that the bulk of your food choices are raw, natural, or whole foods—foods that your grandmother would recognize and even prepare.
Plan your meals. If you don’t plan ahead, chances are you will resort to the convenient option, which often means less healthy, and if you do find a healthy option, it can be quite expensive. In a pinch, if you are grabbing a meal on the fly, try to go to a supermarket where you can grab some fruits or veggies to hold you over or opt for a whole-grain salad.
Summing It Up
If you want to kick the depression out of your life, and increases your energy, you can start by addressing sleep issues, reducing stress, and eating a diet rich in omega-3s. When all of these get better, depression is bound to follow.
Simply put, sleep well, eat well, and move your body, even when you don’t want to. Because believe it or not, even small changes can have a huge impact on your quality of life. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, and taking care of yourself to decrease stress are all part of the regime that will help you to address the depression in your life.
Sometimes, restoring energy is the opposite of what we might initially think, which is to rest—and yes, we do need rest—but getting out there and moving your body can be one of the best ways to find the energy you are lacking, which will address all three areas of your life: sleep, stress, and nutrition (when we are more active, we tend to eat better). So, you could say that to find energy, you need to spend it.
Next time you are feeling down and low energy, take a look at these areas of your life and see what tweaks you can make. It might just mean a more energetic and healthy feeling about your life.
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