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A new study by Ryerson University in Toronto found that  “cognitive” behavioral therapy to treat insomnia also resulted in 87 percent of study patients having their depression symptoms disappear.

While the study, according to The New York Times, found that  “curing insomnia in people with depression could double their chance of a full recovery,” researchers also noted that insomnia can “precede” depression in many cases.

Which brings up an interesting “chicken and egg” kind of question: does depression cause insomnia, or do those sleepless nights trigger depression?

The new research seems to indicate that this link can “work in both directions.”

The type of “sleep therapy” used in the study  involved teaching participants to develop habits and routines much like the nighttime rules set for kids – including setting regular times for going to bed and arising and avoiding TV or stimulating food and drink prior to hitting the sack.

A similar study from Stanford University in 2008 found subjects who were treated with behavioral therapy for insomnia – in addition to taking an anti-depressant –  fully recovered from their depression symptoms, twice the success rate for those who did not get the sleep-help therapy.

The results were so dramatic that a whole host of new sleep and depression studies from Stanford, Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh are currently in the works.

Dr. Andrew Krystal, lead researcher for the Duke study was quoted in the Times as calling this an “…unexplored frontier of psychiatry,” adding “the body has complex circadian cycles, and mostly in psychiatry we’ve ignored them.”

While psychiatry might not have been paying attention to this internal “clock” known as our “circadian rhythms,” as the saying goes, “you can’t fool Mother Nature.”  And unfortunately, we’ve been trying to do that for quite a while, most especially with artificial lighting, and the various devices such as smart phones and computers that we now can’t seem to go without checking every five minutes.

So how do computers, indoor lighting and frequent email checks mess up our circadian rhythms, and in turn our ability to get a good night’s sleep? It all has to do with how we evolved, our intrinsic need for alternating periods of light and dark that in turn keep our “clocks” running on time, our melatonin levels high in the evening and allows for normal sleep patterns to keep us healthy and functioning well during daylight hours.

Since we can’t go back to the days when sunset meant the end of most activities, we can, however, improve the light we are exposed to so we don’t artificially “wake” ourselves up at the wrong times.

The Blue Light “Blues”

Certain electronic devices and fluorescent lighting (including compact fluorescent bulbs – the curly ones) give off a type of  “blue” light that disrupts our circadian rhythms.  While you can’t actually see this hue, your brain can, and it sends a message out to slow melatonin production –  ‘sleep can wait, it’s time to get active again’.

Not only can this blue end of the light spectrum cause you to miss out on sleep, but on the powerful health benefits you get from melatonin, which is an amazing antioxidant.

These simple tips may help to get your “clock” back on schedule, your melatonin levels normal, and possibly keep depression at bay:

  • Keep CFL bulbs out of your bedroom and bathroom. These types of light sources emit that “blue” wavelength light that wakes you up and slows melatonin production.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Do you have a nightlight, CD dock, alarm by your bed? These devices can give off enough light to disturb your sleep. Cover them up or remove them.
  • Get the TV out of the bedroom. Not only is the light bad for melatonin production, but disturbing shows (including the late-night news reports) are not exactly a sleep-promoting influence.
  • Get off the computer and iPad several hours before bedtime. These devices are another way you are bringing the ‘wrong light’ into your evening hours.

To further help you sleep better, some new LED lights that are “biologically corrected” to provide the right kind of light for morning and evening hours are now available, as well as screen covers for computers and smart phones that are said to reduce the “blue” type of light these devices emit.

With all that’s at stake, it’s certainly worth the effort to give a second thought to the light you’re exposed to after the sun sets.

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Linda Bonvie

Linda Bonvie is an author and consumer advocate with over 20 years of experience researching and writing about food safety, health and environmental issues. She is the editor of FoodIdentityTheft.com, for which she writes twice weekly blogs, and is co-author of Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child’s Diet and Environment (2003) and Chemical-Free Kids: the Organic Sequel (2008), as well as The Stevia Story: a tale of incredible sweetness and intrigue (1997). Articles she has co-authored with her brother Bill have been published in a number of top magazines and many major newspapers. One, an expose on the spraying of passengers on international flights with a toxic pesticide, which was published back in 1993, led to the requirement being dropped by a couple dozen countries after then-Transportation Secretary Federico Pena became personally involved in the issue.