Diagnosis Depression: Sleep Dysregulation

One of the most common symptoms found in multiple psychiatric disorders is sleep disturbance. In fact, sleep disturbance is one of the criteria for the diagnosis of major depression. This post will offer an explanation of some of the changes observed in the sleep patterns of depressed patients.

Much of this information comes from sleep studies in patients who have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Without getting too technical there are two primary types of sleep, non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). The NREM sleep can be broken down further but for the sake of simplicity we will consider these two categories. 

What we notice in sleep studies of patients who suffer from major depression is a much faster onset of REM sleep. The body usually cycles through these stages 4-6 times throughout the night, averaging 90 minutes in each stage. As the night progress NREM sleep decreases and REM sleep increases. A person with normal sleep architecture will enter REM after 90 minutes, in patients with depression this time period is shorter and can be observed on the sleep study results.

Other changes include decrease NREM sleep which can be thought of as restorative sleep. Increased REM density reduced total sleep time, and decreased sleep continuity are also present. 

Any single change in sleep architecture is not diagnostic of major depression. However, taken together decreased onset to REM, increased REM density, and decrease sleep efficiency can separate patients with major depression from a control group. 

Given all of this information, routine sleep studies are not diagnostic for major depression and are not routinely ordered unless you suspect another sleep disorder. 

Hopefully this provides a basis for why questions about sleep in depressed patients are important. The sleep changes also provide some objective evidence of altered sleeping patterns in patients with depression. 

What’s Your Therapy

The other day, I was working out in my home gym and I started to think about the topic of therapy. Most of my thinking is done in the solitude of the gym. I keep a small pad and pen to write my thoughts down in between sets. On this particular night, I began thinking about what my own therapy looks like.

The things I was thinking about were not necessarily the standard type of talk therapy most people are accustomed to. I absolutely believe in talk therapy. Honestly, every psychiatrist should be in therapy and it’s often recommended to trainees. The work of a psychiatrist is deep emotional work and its good to analyze these experiences with someone. However, it’s not always easy to find a good therapist.

People often wonder outside of formal talk therapy, what activities do psychiatrists use to reduce stress. 

My personal form of therapy is physical training. I learned a lot about myself over the years by demanding a lot of my body. I stress to all of my patients the importance of self-care in the form of physical activity. The human body is made to move, and we have slowly grown into lives of inactivity. Much of our work, education, and leisure activates involve no physical movement. I highly recommend incorporating various sports, running, weight training and other fitness actives into your daily life. If you can bring a friend along for the workout even better. This covers both physical and social areas of wellbeing. 

This biggest barrier to this process is getting started. Patients often say, “I could never do that” to which I say you don’t have to. Start off simple call a friend or two that can serve as workout partners and start with one 20-minute walk per day. It’s low impact and can be accomplished in almost any setting. There is no need to invest in the best pair of running shoes, a gym membership, or personal trainer. It’s about creating a sustainable habit that will continue for a lifetime. All you need to do is literally take that first step. 

Feel free to share what helps you stay mentally fit and reduce stress in the comment section below.

Do You Love Your Shampoo?

Good morning! Happy Monday. Generating content the way I’ve wanted to has been difficult being home with a little one, working, or working while being home with a little one. I have chosen to take my own advice and be kind to myself, realizing these are unique times and congratulating myself for small victories.

So why am I asking you about shampoo?

There are four shampoos in my shower.

This morning was a tough Monday after a tough weekend. Feels a little bit groundhog day and the gray weather is definitely affecting my mood. But as I engaged my glutes in some old-school leg lifts while jazzercising on Facebook, I had a moment of clarity. It’s wild how the mind clears with increased blood flow from exercise. I promise I’m getting to the shampoo.

In other areas on the site, you may have read about depression. We work with people with depressive disorders every day and there are some common themes. One of the questions I frequently ask my patients is, “What brings you joy?” Why do I ask this? It can answer many questions. Not least of all, assessing for anhedonia. If nothing brings you joy, you may be experiencing anhedonia and should check out Dr. G’s series on depression.

I’ve been thinking about the things that bring me joy and have come to the conclusion that I am unable to do many of them right now. Among those include spending time with friends and family, enjoying new restaurants, taking live workout classes, and perhaps the most missed activity, traveling. What that means is that I need to fill the joy bank with other things in order to prevent anxiety and depression. Preventive medicine is the best medicine after all.

Finally, the shampoo.

I shampoo my hair probably every other day. That means I’m spending a decent amount of time engaging with my shampoo. Recently, I determined that I don’t really like my shampoo. It was simply shampoo, got the job done, nothing special. Then, one evening at approximately 1AM, I made the bold decision to try to love my shampoo. (Side bar: the mind readers on Facebook advertising may have nudged this decision ever-so-slightly. Thanks omniscient overlords of Facebook.) While it took three tries, and a few dollars from my pocket, I now love my shampoo. I like the smell, how it feels in my hair, and the overall results. Best part? Creating a little bit of joy. A little bit of joy every day as a result of a small change adds up to serious improvements in mood.

Below I will make some suggestions for ways to increase joy in your daily life. Who knows when I will take my next trip to Key West or participate in my next 10k? It is time to create some joy and prevent dips in my mood that might contribute to the development of depression or anxiety.

  1. Food

If you are like me, social distancing might have you realizing how frequently you were eating out. Cooking and eating-in are definitely increased in my household. When we do order out, it requires more thought and intention about how to acquire the food and if it will be worth the effort involved.

Honest moment: I’m still not that into cooking. If you love to cook, yay you! Keep cooking and generate some joy. Just learning? Even better! America’s Test Kitchen is a tried and true resource and they are having some excellent promotions right now.

As for me, the answer is avocados. Prior to life in social distancing, I never purchased avocados. They either taunt me while being completely unripe at the exact moment I crave guacamole or slowly disintegrate into a pile of mush in the corner of my counter. Now, I have the time to commit to avocados. Each week, I splurge on delicious avocados and excitedly anticipate the moment my thumb gently indents the skin of the avocado easily, indicating nature’s mayonnaise is ready for consumption. I’m currently at a pace of half of an avocado per day. Sliced up with salt, pepper, and parsley on top of toast – maybe with some tomatoes? Go wild. Breakfast is elevated and I am happy. Every time I have this breakfast (which is quite frequently now) I am tempted to document my elegant meal.

Are there any foods that bring you joy? (I’m not referring to in-the-moment joy that leaves you feeling tired and unmotivated afterwards – although of course there is a time and place for that.) Just think, if you could be excited by your breakfast, that would add some serious coin to your joy bank.

2. Bathing

Most people I know bathe every day. (This is a judgment free zone, and you may not have left the house in several days, so please continue to do you. Unless the people around you complain. In that case, please take a shower.) For this article, let’s assume you bathe every day for about ten minutes. Why not make those 70 minutes per week joyful? What type of soap do you use? Do you love it? (I love my soap, check out Little Egg Harbor soaps online, loving Citrus Twist right now.) I already addressed the shampoo situation. What about a loofah or new set of plush washcloths? Doesn’t have to be expensive, I am very happy with my set of purple Amazon Basics washcloths. Take the time to assess your shower routine. Are there any ways you can make it better, specifically in a way that increases your happiness?

3. Clothes

This category will be different for everyone depending on how you are most comfortable. Are you someone who loves getting dressed up for work every day and now you never change out of sweatpants? That probably isn’t going to add any joy to your life. I’ve spoken to some friends who feel much happier putting on jeans and a cute top, and this simple action of putting on clothes that make you feel good can improve your self esteem and help prevent problems with your mental health.

As for me… if one more person on social media suggests putting on pants with buttons to keep myself in check, I might yell at the computer. Why on earth would I put on pants with a button if that is unnecessary at this time? What an absurd notion. So how has clothing brought me joy? Glorious sweatpants and leggings. Soft flowy tops. Buttery wire-free sports bras.

I have two pairs of sweatpants that I love. One pair has dinosaurs on them and the other I purchased at a brewery a few months back. I also treated myself to a pair of overpriced camo print leggings. Every time I slide them on, I take a moment to deep squat and stretch it all out and bask in the sensation of unrestricted leg movement.

4. Sleep

Good sleep is integral to your mental health and I would like to devote a post in the future exclusively to sleep. For the purpose of this post, I’m suggesting improvements to your sleep routine that might make you smile. Do you sleep with an eye mask? These can be wonderful, especially for city living. What about aromatherapy? A touch of lavender on your pillow prior to bed time might trick your senses into thinking you are at an upscale spa hotel. Some other suggestions: update your pajamas, sheets, or pillows.

5. Self Care

Self care means different things to different people. For me, one of the things I think of is makeup. I love makeup, but my relationship with makeup has evolved over the years. In the past, I loved a full face. Bring on the bronzer! When I started my residency training, I wore full makeup (and heels… what was I thinking?) every day. I think it was almost like wearing armor. As I’ve grown more comfortable over the past few years in my role as a resident physician, I feel perfectly comfortable going to work with no makeup.

For me, playing with a new eye palette in preparation for an upcoming wedding or watching a YouTube tutorial on liquid eyeliner or DIY lashes is fun and makes me happy while applying makeup daily does not. I treasure the extra fifteen minutes in the morning to eat my fancy avocado toast with my family (see above.)

I also no longer feel like I need makeup to be attractive. I have my daughter to thank for that… I see her tiny face sprinkled with my features and I never want her to feel anything less than beautiful. If I think I need makeup and her face looks like mine, that would suggest her perfect face needs makeup too – which it most certainly does not.

I’ve also become comfortable with the mascara and lip only makeup which takes exactly one minute. You’ll find me wearing that makeup look in the photo above posing with shampoo. This applies to hair, waxing, nails, and skin care. As much or as little as makes you happy. Does being home and not needing to do your hair feel amazing? Time to harness that and include it as added happiness to your day. Have you perfected the at-home gel manicure? Color me impressed by both your artistic ability and commitment to nail care. It might even save you money in the future.

6. Sexual health

Sexual health is part of your health. This might mean a celibate hiatus due to a lack of interest at this time. Prefer the Netflix portion of Netflix and chill? That’s just fine. Despite what the internet might have you believe, global pandemics and social distancing aren’t an absolute aphrodisiac for most people.

If the mood does strike you, this might present an opportunity to get to know your needs more, with or without assistance from a device or adult entertainment. Or maybe now is the time to revisit your sexual health needs with your partner.

Pro-tip: Continue to use contraception while engaging in partnered sexual activity if you do not wish to grow your family.

I’m sure there are other ways to add joy into your day. We would love to hear suggestions in the comments! Whatever you choose, take time to assess your piggy bank of joy. Don’t let the balance get too low or you may risk experiencing depressed moods or feelings of anxiety.

One further comment on this subject, and I alluded to it above: you don’t actually NEED to do anything. We are in an uncharted time of global pandemic. If you are alive and keeping any persons that depend on you alive, you are doing a fabulous job! This post seeks to protect the integrity of your mental health by way of experiencing happiness in your daily life.

Sincerely,

Kris @shrinksinsneakers

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