Most people who live with depression will have experienced a painful night. Panic attacks, dark thoughts and turbulent emotions keep us awake. Depression affects our sleep anyway, and any restlessness or anxiety makes matters worse.
Whatever the reason for it, getting through the day after a sleepless night is difficult. In this post we share some ideas to help minimise the effects of a painful night.
Try to get out of bed
It’s tempting to go straight back to sleep as soon as we wake after a painful night. We’re tired and groggy. We don’t want to deal with the world.
But sleeping through the day throws our body clock out further. If at all possible we should try and get up – even if it’s just to migrate to the sofa. That way we’re less likely to suffer from another sleepless night.
Wash the night off
Having a shower can feel like an onerous task at the best of times, and a huge effort after a difficult night. But showering (even just sitting under the running water) – or wiping ourselves down with a flannel can help us. It feels like we’re washing the night away. It’s a symbol that each morning is a new start.
Cancel the non-essential
Depression is exhausting, and a painful night will make us even more tired. If at all possible, stripping our day back to only the essentials allows us some time to rest and recuperate.
Cancelling – say – social obligations, or skipping the supermarket in favour of freezer food or a takeaway, frees up time to just be. To read a book or splat in front of the TV, and just chill out.
If a child in our care had a rough night, we would wrap them in a blanket, feed them their favourite breakfast, let them watch cartoons, and give them a bit of leeway.
We need to try and show similar kindness to ourselves. Blankets, comfy clothes, stroking a pet (if we have one), and a warm drink, can feel like a bit of a hug. Watching something on TV can take our mind off the night before. Self-compassion is so important.
Don’t skip breakfast
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ countless times. But waking up feeling groggy, anxious and generally rubbish doesn’t help our appetite.
Even if we’re not hungry, it’s helpful to try and eat something when when we get up as breakfast can help our bodies know that it’s time to be awake. What we eat has an affect too: choosing something balanced gives us energy for the whole morning. Sugary options will result in an energy spike and crash.
Being up during the night can cause us to be more dehydrated than if we were sleeping. Being dehydrated will make us feel even worse. We need to try and have a drink when we wake up, and then keep hydrated throughout the day.
Take things slowly
Our sleep-deprived brains don’t work as well as our non-sleep-deprived brains. If we’ve spent the night fighting various mental health symptoms, our bodies are likely to be pretty tired, too.
After a painful night we need to be extra-kind to ourselves, and take things slowly. We need to be patient with ourselves if we forget things, and take regular breaks. If we’re not performing at our peak, it’s very easy to beat ourselves up. But doing so makes us feel worse about ourselves and saps our energy even further.
We may be due to go to work the day after a difficult night. If we can make it in (and it’s absolutely OK if we can’t), it may help us to maintain a sense of normality.
If we do make it into work, we’re unlikely to be feeling on top form, so it’s important to try and be patient with ourselves. We may not achieve everything we want to, and we might struggle to concentrate – but that’s okay. Everybody has off days.
If going into work feels impossible, we’ll need to call in sick. And that’s OK. If we had been up during the night being physically unwell and needed the following day to recuperate, we wouldn’t think twice about calling in sick. It’s just the same with our mental health – sometimes illness happens and we have to take sick leave.
Sunlight might not feel attractive after a difficult night: we may have a headache, or it can feel too bright. But letting some light in can help our body clock know it’s time to be awake. It can also help to boost our mood a little.
Avoid relying on sugar and caffeine
When we’re tired, we normally want to reach for sugar and caffeine. They give us lots of energy in the short term. The problem is that this energy is short-lived. It can cause our energy levels to spike and then crash which can make us feel worse. It’s better to have caffeine in moderation and try to have a balanced diet throughout the day.
Being super tired can slow our reactions down. If we don’t feel well or awake enough to drive, we need to make any journeys via other means. It might sound like a huge inconvenience, but it’s vital we keep ourselves – and others – safe.
The next night
Having a bad night can often mean that the next night we’re fearful about going to bed. Plus sometimes over-tiredness makes it difficult to sleep.
Trying to wind down early can be helpful. Getting in our favourite PJs and drinking a milky (decaff) drink or sleepy tea can help. Before we head to bed, we might want to read or book, or do something else that relaxes us – it’s a good idea to avoid screens if we can.
Repeated bad nights
If we’re having a lot of bad nights, it’s worth speaking to our GP or mental health team about it. Sleep can have a huge impact on our mood and they might have some ideas on how we can improve things.
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