December 7, 2018
It feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Yes, shutting everything out by crawling into bed, pulling the covers up and taking a nap when it feels like the world and everything and everyone in it are so against you can be a nice escape. Or, at least, it can feel that way in the moment. Putting off your troubles and worries, no matter what they are, is always easier than confronting things and trying to overcome them, but those problems aren’t going to go away.
More seriously, many people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions have started a trend of taking a nap to escape the symptoms of their conditions when they’re at their worst. After all, what’s more soothing/relaxing than drifting off to sleep? But while this may seem like a harmless little activity that makes you feel better for a little while, it can be a much more serious issue. This shouldn’t be surprising given that mental health experts largely agree that depression has a strong connection to sleep – or rather, a lack thereof.
You’ve no doubt heard that healthy adults should get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Well, it’s not just something people say. It’s actually true. The Mayo Clinic recommends you get a minimum of seven and a maximum of eight hours of sleep every night and that you do your best to go to bed and get out of bed at the same times every night of the week, including weekends. If you must vary your sleeping patterns some on the weekends, it’s recommended you do your best to keep that variance to within an hour.
And guess what else the Clinic recommends? That you avoid taking long daytime naps. Napping for extended periods throughout the day can interfere with your ability to quickly fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
“Disturbance in sleep is a cardinal symptom of depression,” Columbia University Epidemiology Professor Myrna M. Weissman recently told Today.
There are more than 70 kinds of sleep disorders, and they have an overlap with mental health disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, Harvard studies have found. In fact, Harvard researchers have discovered that anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of adults with mental health disorders also have some sort of sleeping disorder or problem. Further, sleeping disorders even appear to lead to mental disorders in many instances. And having a sleep disorder having untreated insomnia can even prevent mental health treatments from being effective.
Think about that:
- A majority of people with mental health disorders have sleeping disorders
- Sleeping disorders can lead to mental health disorders
- Sleeping disorders can prevent effective treatment of mental health disorders
What this means is that you have to be very aware of any potential sleeping disorders you might have. But what this doesn’t mean is that if you take naps you definitely have or will get a mental health disorder. It’s important to be aware of that possibility and consult your doctor for mental health treatment if you think you’re at risk, but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
UCSF’s Dr. Rochelle Zak told Today that adults in their 20s and 30s who take “depression naps,” may just be getting too little sleep without necessarily having depression. It’s possible they’re working too many hours, being too active and staying up too late after work, varying their sleeping habits too much, spending too much time staring at screens late at night or otherwise depriving themselves of sleep.
“Personally and professionally, I don’t like the phrase ‘depression naps’ and would deter patients from using that phrase and taking that sort of ‘nap,’” said Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Helen M. Farrell. The psychiatrist warned that these type of naps can miss the whole point of sleeping (getting the rest your body and mind needs) and focus on the unhealthy behavior of ignoring your problems.
Meanwhile, University of California, Los Angeles Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Emanuel Maidenberg told Today that these naps can be “helpful in the short term” but are not an effective strategy for dealing with sleep issues or mental wellbeing in the long run.
Remember, your regular approach to sleep should include sticking to a dedicated schedule of sleeping roughly the same seven to eight hours a day. Additionally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends you do the following to help ensure healthy sleep habits:
- Get out of bed if you don’t fall asleep inside of 20 minutes
- Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol or excess fluids right before bed
- Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy diet
- Don’t eat a big meal before bed
- Turn off your phone, TV and other electronics at least half an hour before sleeping