According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 50 to 70 million adults suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Sleep is essential to our ability to function on a regular basis. It is when our bodies repair, rest and rejuvenate. We all have a pre determined amount of required sleep. On average, that is about 7 hours, but this can be different for everyone. As we age, we actually require more sleep, but we seem to sleep less. If we consistently get less sleep than we need, our bodies go into sleep debt. We exist in a state of sleep deprivation, causing lack of energy, poor concentration, decreased alertness, poor decision making abilities, declined memory and even weight gain!
Try to do deep breathing before going to bed, take hot water bath with Epsom salt and use natural sleeping aid like melatonin, magnesium and 5HTP to achieve deep sleep and optimal wellness.
Poor sleep inevitably leads to health problems. Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to daylight, and darkness at night, is an essential component of sleeping well.
Your sleep requirements change across your lifespan. Most infants will sleep a good percentage of the day. By adulthood, the amount of sleep typically settles somewhere around seven to nine hours.
Shift workers, for example, are known to have four to five folds higher rates of cancer than the average population. They also have higher rates of obesity and diabetes. But you do not have to be a classic shift worker to put yourself in this high risk category. Eating heavy meals late at night 3 hours before sleep can also be a factor that keeps you from falling into restful sleep.
Lack of sleep has many ramifications, from minor to major, depending on your accumulated sleep debt. Short term, lack of sleep tends to have an immediate effect on your mental and emotional states.
Over the long term, poor sleep can contribute to a whole host of chronic health problems, from obesity and diabetes to immune problems and an increased risk for cancer. Plus it raises your risk of accidents and occupational errors.
Unfortunately, few are those who sleep well on a regular basis. Part of the problem is our propensity for using artificial lighting and electronics at night, in combination with getting insufficient exposure to full, bright, and natural sunlight during the day.
This disconnect from the natural cycles of day and night, activity and sleep, can turn into a chronic problem where youre constantly struggling to sleep well.
Fortunately the remedy is simple, and if you follow the recommendations at the end of this article, chances are youll be able to reestablish a healthy sleep pattern, without which you simply cannot be optimally healthy even if you do everything else right.
A Single Night Without Sleep Can Have Severe Implications
As shown in the video above,1 going just one night without proper sleep starts to impair your physical movements and mental focus, comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent.2
In essence, if you havent slept, your level of impairment is on par with someone whos drunk.
According to researchers, 24 hours worth of sleeplessness breaks down cognitive faculties to such a degree that youll be 4.5 times more likely to sign a false confession.3
Overall, you become more susceptible to “suggested” memories, and start having trouble discerning the true source of your memories. For example, you might confuse something you read somewhere with a first-hand experience. According to the authors of this study:
“We propose that sleep deprivation sets the stage for a false confession by impairing complex decision making abilities specifically, the ability to anticipate risks and consequences, inhibit behavioral impulses, and resist suggestive influences.
Lack of Sleep Linked to Internet Surfing and Poor Grades
Other research4 has linked lack of sleep to more extended internet usage, such as browsing through Facebook rather than studying or working. The reason for this is again related to impaired cognition and the inability to focus, making you more prone to distraction.
Not surprisingly, academic performance also suffers. In one recent study,5 the less sleep high school students reported getting, the lower their average grades were.
How Sleep Influences and Regulates Emotional Perception
Sleeping well is also important for maintaining emotional balance. Fatigue compromises your brains ability to regulate emotions, making you more prone to crankiness, anxiety, and unwarranted emotional outbursts.
Recent research also shows that when you havent slept well, youre more apt to overreact to neutral events; you may feel provoked when no provocation actually exists, and you may lose your ability to sort out the unimportant from the important, which can result in bias and poor judgment.
Reporting on this research, in which participants were kept awake for one whole night before taking a series of image tests to gauge emotional reactions and concentration levels, Medical News Today writes:6
… Eti Ben-Simon, who conducted the experiment, believes that sleep deprivation may universally impair judgment, but it is more likely that a lack of sleep causes neutral images to provoke an emotional response.
The second test examined concentration levels. Participants inside an fMRI scanner had to complete a task that demanded their attention to press a key or button, while ignoring distracting background pictures with emotional or neutral content …
After only one night without sleep, participants were distracted by every single image (neutral and emotional), while well-rested participants only found the emotional images distracting.
The effect was indicated by activity change, or what Prof. Hendler calls a change in the emotional specificity of the amygdala … a major limbic node responsible for emotional processing in the brain.
What Happens in Your Body After Two or More Sleepless Nights?
After 48 hours of no sleep, your oxygen intake is lessened and anaerobic power is impaired, which affects your athletic potential. You may also lose coordination, and start to forget words when speaking. Its all downhill from there.
After the 72 hour-mark of no sleep, concentration takes a major hit, and emotional agitation and heart rate increases. Your chances of falling asleep during the day increase and along with it, your risk of having an accident.
In 2013, drowsy drivers caused 72,000 car accidents in which 800 Americans were killed, and 44,000 were injured.7 Your problem-solving skills dwindle with each passing sleepless night, and paranoia can become a problem.
In some cases, hallucinations and sleep deprivation psychosis can set in a condition in which you can no longer interpret reality. Recent research suggests psychosis can occur after as little as 24 hours without sleep, effectively mimicking symptoms observed in those with schizophrenia.
Sleep Deprivation Decreases Your Immune Function
Research published in the journal Sleep reports that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress.8,9
The researchers measured the white blood cell counts in 15 people who stayed awake for 29 hours straight, and found that blood cell counts increased during the sleep deprivation phase. This is the same type of response you typically see when youre sick or stressed.
In a nutshell, whether youre physically stressed, sick, or sleep-deprived, your immune system becomes hyperactive and starts producing white blood cells your bodys first line of defense against foreign invaders like infectious agents. Elevated levels of white blood cells are typically a sign of disease. So your body reacts to sleep deprivation in much the same way it reacts to illness.
Other study10 findings suggest that deep sleep plays a very special role in strengthening immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens in a way similar to psychological long-term memory retention. When youre well rested, your immune system is able to mount a much faster and more effective response when an antigen is encountered a second time.
When youre sleep-deprived, your body loses much of this rapid response ability. Unfortunately, sleep is one of the most overlooked factors of optimal health in general, and immune function in particular.
Sleeping Poorly Raises Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
A number of studies have demonstrated that lack of sleep can play a significant role in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. In earlier research,11 women who slept five hours or less every night were 34 percent more likely to develop diabetes symptoms than women who slept for seven or eight hours each night.
According to research12 published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, after four nights of sleep deprivation (sleep time was only 4.5 hours per night), study participants’ insulin sensitivity was 16 percent lower, while their fat cells’ insulin sensitivity was 30 percent lower, and rivaled levels seen in those with diabetes or obesity.
Senior author Matthew Brady, Ph.D., an associate professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, noted that:13 “This is the equivalent of metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years just from four nights of partial sleep restriction. Fat cells need sleep, and when they don’t get enough sleep, they become metabolically groggy.”
Similarly, researchers warn that teenage boys who get too little slow-wave sleep are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Slow-wave sleep is a sleep stage associated with reduced levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and reduced inflammation. As reported by MedicineNet.com:14
Boys who lost a greater amount of slow-wave sleep between childhood and the teen years had a higher risk of developing insulin resistance than those whose slow-wave sleep totals remained fairly stable over the years …
On a night following sleep deprivation, we’ll have significantly more slow-wave sleep to compensate for the loss, study author Jordan Gaines … said … We also know that we lose slow-wave sleep most rapidly during early adolescence. Given the restorative role of slow-wave sleep, we weren’t surprised to find that metabolic and cognitive [mental] processes were affected during this developmental period.
The Many Health Hazards of Sleep Deprivation
Aside from directly impacting your immune function, another explanation for why poor sleep can have such varied detrimental effects on your health is that your circadian system “drives” the rhythms of biological activity at the cellular level. Weve really only begun to uncover the biological processes that take place during sleep.
For example, during sleep your brain cells shrink by about 60 percent, which allows for more efficient waste removal. This nightly detoxification of your brain appears to be very important for the prevention of dementia and Alzheimers disease. Sleep is also intricately tied to important hormone levels, including melatonin, the production of which is disturbed by lack of sleep.
This is extremely problematic, as melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction).
Lack of sleep also decreases levels of your fat-regulating hormone leptin while increasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. The resulting increase in hunger and appetite can easily lead to overeating and weight gain. In short, the many disruptions provoked by lack of sleep cascade outward throughout your entire body, which is why poor sleep tends to worsen just about any health problem. For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
Contribute to a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight Harm your brain by halting new cell production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus
Aggravate or make you more susceptible to stomach ulcers Raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease
Promote or further exacerbate chronic diseases such as: Parkinsons, Alzheimers, multiple sclerosis (MS), gastrointestinal tract disorders, kidney disease, and cancer Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)
Worsen constipation Increase your risk of dying from any cause
Worsen behavioral difficulties in children Increase your risk of depression. In one trial, 87 percent of depressed patients who resolved their insomnia had major improvements to their depression, with symptoms disappearing after eight weeks
Alter gene expression. Research has shown that when people cut sleep from 7.5 to 6.5 hours a night, there were increases in the expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress15 Aggravate chronic pain. In one study, poor or insufficient sleep was found to be the strongest predictor for pain in adults over 5016
Tips to Improve Your Sleep Habits
Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way toward ensuring you uninterrupted, restful sleep and thereby better health. To get you started, check out the suggestions listed in the table below. For even more helpful guidance on how to improve your sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.
If you’re even slightly sleep deprived, I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life. As for how much sleep you need for optimal health, a panel of experts reviewed more than 300 studies to determine the ideal amount of sleep, and found that, as a general rule, most adults need right around eight hours per night.
Optimize your light exposure during the day, and minimize light exposure after sunset Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night.
If youre in darkness all day long, your body can’t appreciate the difference and will not optimize melatonin production.
Make sure you get at least 30 to 60 minutes of outdoor light exposure during the daytime in order to “anchor” your master clock rhythm, in the morning if possible. More sunlight exposure is required as you age.
Once the sun sets, minimize artificial light exposure to assist your body in secreting melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy.
It can be helpful to sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. If you need navigation light, install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb.
Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue light does. Salt lamps are great for this purpose.
Address mental states that prevent peaceful slumber A sleep disturbance is always caused by something, be it physical, emotional, or both. Anxiety and anger are two mental states that are incompatible with sleep.
Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities is another common sleep blocker.
To identify the cause of your wakefulness, analyze the thoughts that circle in your mind during the time you lie awake, and look for themes.
Many who have learned the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) find it is incredibly useful in helping them to sleep.
One strategy is to compile a list of your current concerns, and then tap on each issue. To learn how to tap, please refer to our free EFT guide.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees Fahrenheit Many people keep their homes too warm at night. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime This raises your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that youre ready for sleep.
Avoid watching TV or using electronics in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed Electronic devices emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 pm and 10 pm, and these devices may stifle that process.
If you have to use your cellphone or computer at night, downloading a free application called F.lux will automatically dim your computer device screens as the evening wears on.17
Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other detrimental biological effects.
A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. Ideally, you should turn off any wireless router while you are sleeping after all, you dont need the Internet when you sleep.
Develop a relaxing pre-sleep routine Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day helps keep your sleep on track, but having a consistent pre-sleep routine or sleep ritual is also important.
For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals its time for sleep.
Sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D. suggests listening to calming music, stretching or doing relaxation exercises.18 Mindfulness therapies have also been found helpful for insomnia.19
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other drugs, including nicotine Two of the biggest sleep saboteurs are caffeine and alcohol, both of which also increase anxiety. Caffeines effects can last four to seven hours. Tea and chocolate also contain caffeine.
Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it makes sleep more fragmented and less restorative.
Nicotine in all its forms (cigarettes, e-cigs, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, and smoking cessation patches) is also a stimulant, so lighting up too close to bedtime can worsen insomnia.
Many other drugs can also interfere with sleep.
Use a fitness tracker to help you get to bed on time, and track which activities boost or hinder deep sleep To optimize sleep you need to go to bed early enough. If you have to get up at 6:30am, youre just not going to get enough sleep if you go to bed after midnight.
Many fitness trackers can now track both daytime body movement and sleep, allowing you to get a better picture of how much sleep youre actually getting.
Newer fitness trackers like Jawbones UP3 can even tell you which activities led to your best sleep and what factors resulted in poor sleep.
More sleep info: http://www.your101ways.com
Major depression is one of the most common disorders in the U.S.,1 with 16 million adults reporting at least one major depressive episode in the past year.2,3 When you look at all forms of depression, that number goes even higher. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 24 million Americans experience some form of depression,4 which can interfere with personal and work relationships, reduce work or academic performance and affect physical health.
Depression reduces your ability to care for yourself properly and make adequate decisions about your health, including nutrition and sleep. Imbalances in nutrition, weight fluctuations and poor sleep habits may lead to compromised immune function.5
If ignored, depression can become chronic and can lead to self-harming behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse6 and even be terminal if the person commits suicide. Up to 70 percent of people who commit suicide are clinically depressed,7 and 90 percent of people who struggle with suicidal thoughts experience a combination of depression and substance abuse.8
Antidepressant Use Continues to Rise
According to the latest statistics,9,10,11,12 use of antidepressants in the U.S. rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014. As of 2014:
Nearly 1 in 8 Americans (13 percent) over the age of 12 reported being on antidepressant medication
1 in 6 women (16.5 percent) reported antidepressant use compared to 1 in 11 men (9 percent)
About one-quarter of those who had taken an antidepressant in the past month reported being on them for 10 years or more
Caucasians were more than three times more likely to use antidepressants than Blacks, Hispanics or Asians (16.5 percent compared to 5.6 percent, 5 percent and 3.3 percent respectively)
In Scotland, researchers also warn that antidepressant use among children under the age of 12 has risen dramatically.13 Between 2009 and 2016, use in this age group quadrupled. Use among children under 18 doubled in the same time frame.
Research Reveals Antidepressants Are Rarely the Right Answer
Unfortunately, the most widely used remedy for depression is also among the least effective. In addition to a long list of potential side effects14,15 (which include worsening depression and suicide), 40 percent of people with major depressive disorder treated with antidepressants do not achieve full remission.16
Perhaps more importantly, studies17,18,19 have repeatedly shown antidepressants work no better than placebo for mild to moderate depression, so youre taking grave risks for a very small chance of benefit. As noted in a 2014 paper on antidepressants and the placebo effect:20
Antidepressants are supposed to work by fixing a chemical imbalance, specifically, a lack of serotonin in the brain But analyses of the published data and the unpublished data that were hidden by drug companies reveals that most (if not all) of the benefits are due to the placebo effect …
Analyzing the data we had found, we were not surprised to find a substantial placebo effect on depression. What surprised us was how small the drug effect was. Seventy-five percent of the improvement in the drug group also occurred when people were give dummy pills with no active ingredient in them.
The serotonin theory is as close as any theory in the history of science to having been proved wrong. Instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability making people more likely to become depressed in the future.
Placebo Effect Accounts for 82 Percent of Drug Response
The author of that 2014 study, Irving Kirsch, is a psychotherapist who has performed a number of analyses on antidepressants. In 2002, his team filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking for the trial data provided by drug companies as part of the drug approval process.
The FDA requires drug companies to provide data on all clinical trials theyve sponsored, including unpublished trials. As it turned out, nearly half of all clinical trials on antidepressants remained unpublished. When both published and unpublished trials were included, 57 percent showed the drug had no clinical benefit over placebo. Whats more, the placebo response actually accounted for 82 PERCENT of the beneficial response to antidepressants!
These results were reproduced in a 2008 study21 using another, even larger set of FDA trial data. According to Kirsch, Once again, 82 percent of the drug response was duplicated by placebo. A major benefit of evaluating FDA trial data was that all of the trials used the same primary measure of depression, which made the drug-to-placebo effects very easy to identify and compare.
The primary measure of depression used in these studies was the Hamilton depression scale, a 17-item scale with a possible score of 0 to 53 points. The higher your score, the more severe your depression. Importantly, the mean difference between antidepressants and placebo was less than two points (1.8) on this scale, which is considered clinically insignificant.
To illustrate just how insignificant of a difference this is, you can score a 6-point difference simply by changing sleep patterns without any reported change in other depressive symptoms.
EMFs A Not Well-Known Cause of Anxiety and Depression
About one year ago Dr. Martin Pall published a review22 in the Journal of Neuroanatomy showing how microwave radiation from cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and computers and tablets not in airplane mode is clearly associated with many neuropsychiatric disorders. I recently did an interview with him that will air on September 3. In the meantime, you can view my interview on EMFs that I discussed on my recent trip to visit with Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of Bulletproof.23
These microwave EMFs increase intracellular calcium through voltage gated calcium channels (VGCCs) and the tissue with the highest density of VGCCs is the brain. Once these VGCCs are stimulated they also cause the release of neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine hormones leading to not only anxiety and depression, but neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and brain cancer.
So, if you struggle with anxiety or depression, be sure to limit your exposure to wireless technology. Simple measures include turning your Wi-Fi off at night, not carrying your cellphone on your body and not keeping portable phones, cellphones and other electric devices in your bedroom.
Studies have also confirmed the therapeutic effects of spending time in nature. Ecotherapy has been shown to lower stress, improve mood and significantly reduce symptoms of depression.24 Outdoor activities could be just about anything, from walking a nature trail to gardening, or simply taking your exercise outdoors.
Breath work such as the Buteyko breathing technique also has enormous psychological benefits and can quickly reduce anxiety by increasing the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in your body. These three techniques are a perfect complement to each other, and cost nothing. Simply turn off your electronics, head outside and practice proper breathing.
America Struggles With Notable Decline in Mental Health
While prescriptions for psychiatric drugs keep increasing (when you include other drugs beside antidepressants, such as anti-anxiety drugs, nearly 17 percent of American adults are medicated25,26), several parameters show mental health in the U.S. is declining.
Suicide rates are at a 30-year high, mental disorders are now the second most common cause of disability, having risen sharply since 1980,27 and prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths have become a public health emergency. While opioid pain killers are among the most lethal, psychiatric drugs also take their toll. In 2013, anti-anxiety benzodiazepine drugs accounted for nearly one-third of prescription overdose deaths.28
All of these statistics suggest that far from being helpful, antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs are making the situation worse. Sure, these drugs may be helpful for a small minority of people with very severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, but clearly, the vast majority of people using these drugs do not suffer from severe psychiatric illness.
Most are struggling with sadness, grief, anxiety, the blues and depression, which are in many ways part of your bodys communication system, revealing nutritional or sunlight deficiencies and/or spiritual disconnect, for example. The underlying reasons for these kinds of troubles are manifold, but you can be sure that, whatever the cause, an antidepressant will not correct it.
Women also need to be mindful of the fact that use of antidepressants during pregnancy can significantly increase your chances of having a child with autism. One study found antidepressant use during the second or third trimester was associated with an 87 percent increased risk of autism.29 The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors was associated with double the risk of autism in the child, while the use of two or more antidepressants increased the risk more than fourfold.
Which Treatments Actually Work?
If youre at all interested in following science-based recommendations, youd place antidepressants at the very bottom of your list of treatment candidates. Far more effective treatments for depression include:
Exercise A number of studies have shown exercise outperforms drug treatment. Exercise helps create new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm, and boosts serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which helps buffer the effects of stress.
Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity, but even gentle forms of exercise can be effective. Yoga, for example, has received particular attention in a number of studies. A study published this spring found 90-minute yoga sessions three times a week reduced symptoms of major depression by at least 50 percent.30
Nutritional intervention Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective treatment plan. If youre gluten sensitive, you will need to remove all gluten from your diet. A food sensitivity test can help ascertain this. Reducing lectins may also be a good idea. As a general guideline, eating a whole food diet as described in my optimal nutrition plan can go a long way toward lowering your inflammation level. Certain nutritional deficiencies are also notorious contributors to depression, especially:
◦ Omega-3 fats. I recommend getting an omega-3 index test to make sure youre getting enough. Ideally, you want your omega-3 index to be 8 percent or higher.
◦ B vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, B8 and B12). Low dietary folate can raise your risk by as much as 300 percent.31,32 One of the most recent studies33,34 showing the importance of vitamin deficiencies in depression involved suicidal teens. Most turned out to be deficient in cerebral folate and all of them showed improvement after treatment with folinic acid.
Vitamin D Studies have shown vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to depression and that depression can respond favorably to optimizing your vitamin D stores, ideally by getting sensible sun exposure.35,36 In one such study,37 people with a vitamin D level below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) had an 85 percent increased risk of depression compared to those with a level greater than 30 ng/mL.
A double-blind randomized trial38 published in 2008 concluded that supplementing with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate [depression] symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.Recent research39 also claims that low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with suicide attempts. For optimal health, make sure your vitamin D level is between 40 and 60 ng/mL year-round. Ideally, get a vitamin D test at least twice a year to monitor your level.
Probiotics Keeping your gut microbiome healthy also has a significant effect on your moods, emotions and brain. You can read more in my previous article, Mental Health May Depend on the Health of Your Gut Flora.
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) EFT is a form of psychological acupressure that has been shown to be quite effective for depression and anxiety.40,41,42,43 For serious or complex issues, seek out a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT44 to guide you through the process. That said, for most of you with depression symptoms, this is a technique you can learn to do effectively on your own. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows you how.
One of my new favorites. My mom passed away unexpectedly in July and I am very grateful she did not have cancer or struggles with any abuses from the conventional health system that many of our readers do. However, losing my mother was a major challenge in grief management for me.
I realize grief is not depression but the book Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender45 by Dr. David Hawkins, was one of the best books I have read this year and helped teach me the useful tool of how to free yourself of painful emotions. I have read many of Hawkins previous books but this was his last one as he also recently passed.
Other Helpful Treatment Strategies
Here are several other strategies that can help improve your mental health:46
Clean up your sleep hygiene
Make sure youre getting enough high quality sleep, as sleep is essential for optimal mood and mental health. A fitness tracker that tracks your sleep can be a useful tool. The inability to fall asleep and stay asleep can be due to elevated cortisol levels, so if you have trouble sleeping, you may want to get your saliva cortisol level tested with an Adrenal Stress Index test.
If youre already taking hormones, you can try applying a small dab of progesterone cream on your neck or face when you awaken during the night and cant call back to sleep. Another alternative is to take adaptogens, herbal products that help lower cortisol and adjust your body to stress. There are also other excellent herbs and amino acids that help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Meditation can also help.
Optimize your gut health
A number of studies have confirmed gastrointestinal inflammation can play a critical role in the development of depression.47 Optimizing your gut microbiome will also help regulate a number of neurotransmitters and mood-related hormones, including GABA and corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression-related behavior.48
To nourish your gut microbiome, be sure to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and traditionally fermented foods. Healthy choices include fermented vegetables, lassi, kefir and natto. If you do not eat fermented foods on a regular basis, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is recommended.
Also remember to severely limit sugars, especially fructose, as well as grains, to rebalance your gut flora. As a standard recommendation, I suggest limiting your daily fructose consumption from all sources to 25 grams per day or less.
Visualization and guided imagery have been used for decades by elite athletes prior to an event, successful business people and cancer patients all to achieve better results through convincing your mind you have already achieved successful results.49,50 Similar success has been found in people with depression.51
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT has been used successfully to treat depression.52,53 This therapy assumes mood is related to the pattern of thought. CBT attempts to change mood and reverse depression by directing your thought patterns.
Make sure your cholesterol levels aren’t too low for optimal mental health
You may also want to check your cholesterol to make sure its not too low. Low cholesterol is linked to dramatically increased rates of suicide, as well as aggression toward others.54 This increased expression of violence toward self and others may be due to the fact that low membrane cholesterol decreases the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, which are approximately 30 percent cholesterol by weight.
Lower serum cholesterol concentrations therefore may contribute to decreasing brain serotonin, which not only contributes to suicidal-associated depression, but prevents the suppression of aggressive behavior and violence toward self and others.
A number of herbs and supplements can be used in lieu of drugs to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. These include:
St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum). This medicinal plant has a long historical use for depression, and is thought to work similarly to antidepressants, raising brain chemicals associated with mood such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.55
S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe). SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants. When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. Evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression,56 which is more than can be said about antidepressants.
XingPiJieYu. This Chinese herb, available from doctors of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has been found to reduce the effects of chronic and unpredictable stress, thereby lowering your risk of depression.57
Guidelines for Safe Drug Withdrawal
If youre currently on an antidepressant and want to get off it, ideally, youll want to have the cooperation of your prescribing physician. It would also be wise to do some homework on how to best proceed. Dr. Joseph Glenmullen from Harvard has written a helpful book on how to withdraw called The Antidepressant Solution: A Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Antidepressant Withdrawal, Dependence, and Addiction.
You can also turn to an organization with a referral list of doctors who practice more biologically or naturally, such as the American College for Advancement in Medicine at www.ACAM.org. A holistic psychiatrist will have a number of treatment options in their tool box that conventional doctors do not, and will typically be familiar with nutritional supplementation.
Once you have the cooperation of your prescribing physician, start lowering the dosage of the medication youre taking. There are protocols for gradually reducing the dose that your doctor should be well aware of. At the same time, it may be wise to add in a multivitamin and/or other nutritional supplements or herbs. Again, your best bet would be to work with a holistic psychiatrist who is well-versed in the use of nutritional support.
If you have a friend or family member who struggles with depression, perhaps one of the most helpful things you can do is to help guide them toward healthier eating and lifestyle habits, as making changes can be particularly difficult when you’re feeling blue or worse, suicidal. Encourage them to unplug and meet you outside for walks. We should not underestimate the power of human connection, and the power of connection with nature. Both, I believe, are essential for mental health and emotional stability.
If you are feeling desperate or have any thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or simply go to your nearest hospital emergency department. You cannot make long-term plans for lifestyle changes when you are in the middle of a crisis.