Perusing Time magazine the other day, I noticed another article on sleep. It doesn’t surprise me how often sleep crops up these days in media programmes and articles, because it really is so fundamentally important to our health.
A disrupted night’s sleep lowers our mood
This article was reporting on a 3 night study by Patrick Finan, in the journal Sleep, which showed that a disrupted night’s sleep, significantly reduces the amount of slow wave sleep (the deep sleep associated with rest, recuperation, body repair) a person gets, and that this then adversely affected a person’s mood. With each disrupted night of the three in the study, the decline in mood continued and was says Finan “striking. ” This effect on mood was markedly worse than for another group who had shortened, but good quality, sleep over the same period.
Anxiety affects sleep quality
It reinforced to me the extensive work done on sleep by Joe Griffin, one of the founders of Human Givens psychotherapy. (See the book by Joe Griffen and Ivan Tyrrell : “ Dreaming reality, how dreaming keeps us sane or can drive us mad”),Joe concluded, that anxiety has a significant negative impact on sleep patterns, which could then lead to depression. He formulated this theory in the Human Givens model of ‘the cycle of depression’.
Explaining how anxiety affects sleep and leads to the ‘Cycle of Depression’
This model says that when a person has a problem in life which results in at least one of their emotional needs not being met, they tend to ruminate on it. This anxious rumination affects our quality of our sleep. When asleep, we move in cycles between the recuperative, refreshing slow wave sleep (about 75% of a healthy adults sleep time) mentioned above and dream sleep. Dream sleep is designed to discharge any unresolved emotional arousal built up during the day, so that we can awaken with a relatively clean slate and ready to tackle the next day. High levels of rumination therefore mean that we need an increasing amount of dream sleep to process and deactivate this emotional arousal. Not only is dream sleep active and therefore tiring, but it eats into and reduces the amount of refreshing slow wave sleep we get. This means that a person experiencing a lot of emotional problems gets insufficient slow wave sleep and wakes up tired, exhausted, and lacking in energy and motivation. This lack of energy means they start to increasingly stop doing the important things that bring pleasure into their lives, whilst also feeling unable to do the tasks that give them a sense of meaning and purpose that move them forward. In these circumstances it is easy for a person to slide into depression. This depressed mood then feeds their negative introspection, driving higher levels of emotional arousal, which in turn requires longer periods of exhausting dream sleep to process, and so the cycle of depression feeds itself.
All this probably sounds complicated, but basically if you are worrying a lot about something, it can affect the quality of sleep you get to such an extent that you get depressed. This can become a self-feeding cycle, which is difficult to break out of without help. The evidence for links between anxiety, sleep disruption and mood, leading into depression, appear to be strong.
How the Human Givens approach works to tackle anxiety and depression.
Therapists trained in the Human Givens approach as I am, are trained to focus on helping depressed people resolve the issues that are preventing their emotional needs from being met, whilst in the short term, giving them simple tools and techniques to control their anxiety, as well as helping them with improved sleep hygene. In my experience as a therapist, this Human Givens approach is very effective.