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Insomnia treatments help reduce depression

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Treating insomnia on its own, rather than as a symptom of depression, leads to better sleep and better moods.

Treating insomnia on its own, rather than as a symptom of depression, leads to better sleep and better moods.

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Insomnia and depression are two of the most common conditions interfering with well-being, and they often go hand in hand. Researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto found treatments focused specifically on insomnia can also alleviate depression, according to a study.

Study participants received eight sessions of talk therapy for insomnia. “During these sessions, patients got specific instructions on how to improve their insomnia. They did not get sleep medicines,” CNN reported. “After two months, patients … showed a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression, and both their insomnia and their depression improved.”

Sleep medications are at best a temporary fix for insomnia. “People who take newer prescription sleeping pills fall asleep only 8 to 20 minutes faster than with a placebo,” according to recent analysis by Consumer Reports. The same analysis found that the newest prescription sleep aids “add just 3 to 34 minutes to total sleep time.” Sleep drugs also have a long list of undesired side effects including next-day drowsiness, dependency and rebound insomnia.

Sleep aids can become deadly when mixed with alcohol, Dr. Colleen Carney, one of the authors of the Ryerson study, told The Link, a Concordia University news service.

Carney advocates for mental health practitioners to treat insomnia as a primary disorder and not just a side effect of depression. She advocates cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a problem-solving form of talk therapy that helps patients change dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns, as a treatment for insomnia.

Effective treatment for people suffering from insomnia and depression includes CBT for insomnia, CBT for depression and possibly antidepressant medications, according to Carney.

One to four sessions of CBT for insomnia can be more effective than sleep medications, Carney told The Link. “Unlike medication, it lasts for years and years,” she said. “It’s a good investment for people.”

During the treatment, “We study a person’s sleep patterns over the course of a few weeks and then we make an adjustment based on what’s going on with that person,” said Carney. For example, patients may need to set a regular bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol or change their sleep environment.

Dr. Howard LeWine of Harvard Medical School offers these suggestions for improved sleep:

  • Establish a regular bedtime and a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping or love-making. Avoid reading and watching television in bed.
  • If you can't sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room. Read quietly with a dim light. When you feel sleepy, get back into bed.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Build up to 45 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day.
  • Whenever possible, schedule stressful or demanding tasks early in the day and less challenging activities later.
  • Don't go to bed hungry, but don't eat a big meal right before getting into bed.
  • Limit caffeine and consume none after 2 p.m.
  • Avoid alcohol after dinnertime. Although many people think of it as a sedative, it can actually impair your sleep.
  • Be sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is dark and quiet. Consider a sleep mask or earplugs. Keep the bedroom at a constant, comfortable temperature.
  • Don't take long naps during the day.
  • Turn the alarm clock around so you won't worry that you are still awake.
  • Practice relaxation breathing. Use slow breaths, especially when you exhale.

mmaxwell@deseretnews.com.