Sleeping Well at Night Can Ease Your Depression

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on February 26, 2024
3 min read

Getting a good night's sleep can be an important part of your plan to manage depression. When you're well-rested, you'll not only have more energy, but you may also have a more upbeat view on life and better focus.

That's because sleep is about a whole lot more than just rest. In the deepest stage, it recharges the system that fights germs and keeps your body healthy. The stage where you dream boosts your ability to learn and remember things. And, it plays a big role in your emotional well-being.

When you don't get quality shut-eye, it throws your brain chemistry out of whack. It's harder to think clearly and manage your feelings. That can sap your will to get things done and cause mood swings.

Since sleep and depression both affect your brain, they can have big effects on each other, as well.

Sleep problems are often the first sign of depression. And the two are so closely tied, it can be hard to tease them apart. You might be more vulnerable to depression from too many nights of poor sleep. Or you might be sleeping poorly because you're depressed.

Doctors aren't sure exactly how they affect each other, but even minor sleep issues can drag your mood down. It can happen so slowly over time that you don't even realize it. And the more serious a problem like insomnia gets, the more likely you are to become depressed.  

In the other direction, depression might mean you have a hard time falling asleep. Or you wake up often through the night. It can even change how long you spend in the different sleep stages.

Together, they can create a cycle that's hard to break. 

Common treatments for depression, like drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may not work when you have sleep issues.  

Even when they do, depression is more likely to return if you don't take care of your sleep problems, too. Your doctor can help you with both. And there are a lot of steps you can take on your own to get better sleep.

It's all about creating -- and sticking to -- good sleep habits. And those are the same whether you're depressed or not.

Set the stage early. Sleep isn't just about what you do at night. Try to:

  • Get outside during the day. Sunlight keeps your natural sleep-wake rhythm on track.
  • Exercise every day. It'll help you get more sleep and wake up refreshed. Stick to mornings and afternoons, though. Physical activity within a few hours of bedtime may keep you up.  
  • Eat your meals at about the same time each day. Avoid heavy or spicy foods close to bedtime.
  • Keep naps to 20-30 minutes max. And take them only in the early or middle of the afternoon.
  • Limit alcohol, caffeine, and smoking.

Think cozy. Start with a comfy bed and a cool room. From there, make sure to:

  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping and sex.
  • Take the TV and other electronics out of your room. The light from them messes with your levels of melatonin, a key sleep hormone.
  • Keep it as quiet as you can. That means no radio, phone, laptop, or anything else that buzzes, beeps, or dings.
  • Go dark with heavy curtains or good blinds.

Have a nighttime routine. Boring is best when it comes to getting ready for sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Try to keep it within half an hour on both ends.
  • Give yourself a solid hour to chill out before bed. Take a bath, listen to quiet music, or read a book. And turn the lights down low.
  • Don't talk about stressful things right before sleep.  
  • Try some relaxation techniques. Meditation and deep breathing can help calm a racing mind.