Sleep is very important in overcoming depression. When we don’t get enough sleep, or endure sleepless nights, we are less able to deal with normal anxiety. Many people struggle with sleeplessness. In this episode we talk about some of the things that have helped us sleep even when dealing with high levels of anxiety.

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Depression Busters: When You Just Cannot Sleep

Depression is an emotion all of us deal with either chronically or from time to time. We are encouraged to be positive, to put on a happy face, to look at the bright side, and to be upbeat, but sometimes we feel pulled into darkness. 

In the last few episodes we’ve talked about depression and depression busters. In Episode 86  we laid some foundation for why this was such an important topic, particularly for leaders. In that same episode we talked about the importance of friends and healthy relationships in busting depression. In Episode 87 we talked about the importance of rest, refreshing, taking breaks, and managing energy levels in busting depression. In this episode, Episode 88, we take on the topic of sleep. 

We’ve found a lot of people, particularly leaders and those carrying a good deal of responsibility, struggle with sleeplessness, or to sleeping soundly. We know the problem can be physiological or deeply psychological, and when depression or sleeplessness reaches critical level, seek professional help. In these episodes, we are addressing the maladies common to most leaders, things all of us must deal with on some level, and how we have managed those things in our own lives. 

Calibrate360 is about lifting leaders, coaching coaches, and mentoring mentors. Our hope is that not only will we be able to calibrate our own lives, but that we be able to lift those that we love and lead as they calibrate their lives. 

Sleeplessness is a Challenge

The first challenge is when we have trouble going to sleep, or sleeping soundly long enough, it eventually disrupts our entire lives. Our growing weariness puts us on edge, colors our world with a tinge of blue, and fuels depression. 

The second challenge is routines we’ve chosen that do not give us enough sleep. It is sleep deprivation by choice. In Episode 87 we talked much about rest, but sleep is such a big topic that so many struggle with, we wanted to give it more attention. Later in this episode we will address this challenge of choice. 

The Story…

We know so many who have survived the death of a spouse, or other great losses, who have struggled much with sleep. 

For David: 

In my own journey through despair, there were times sleep was elusive, but I was blessed to find the pace and rhythms that allowed me to sleep. I believe the practices that helped me sleep during my greatest crisis were forged by my patterns and practices earlier in life. 

When my life and leadership began to really ramp up in the mid-90s, when I was in my thirties, I had so many details floating around in my head that it kept me awake at night. Learning to deal with it practically laid a sleep-foundation that I believe continues to help me to this day. We will share some of those practices (that worked for me and may or may not work for others) in this episode. 

For Donna: 

Sleep has been a problem for me for a long time. When I was a teenager, I had no trouble sleeping. I could sleep until noon, especially if I had chosen to stay up too late. I pulled “all-nighters” in college if I had put off an assignment for too long or waited too long to prepare for an exam. During that season of life, my sleep or lack of sleep was usually a choice. It was about managing my time and my schedule.

Then came a season in my life that I could sleep if I was given the opportunity, but it was often not my choice not to sleep. My responsibilities as a mom often kept me from sleeping. 

The season of my life now has been challenging because I have plenty of time to sleep, but I often find I cannot.

  • Some of that is due to my age, hormones, etc.
  • Some is due to a nagging back problem I have been dealing with.
  • Much has been due to anxiety that came from my sudden loss. My world exploded and I lost control. Chaos ensued, externally and internally. When I would lie down to sleep, the internal chaos was so loud, it caused many sleepless night.
  • Combination of all of the above exacerbated the problem.
  • When I managed to fall asleep, I would wake up due to pain or for some other reason. It was then that my brain would go into chaos mode. I would be awake the rest of the night. Sometimes it was 3 or 4 am; sometimes it was earlier. I was exhausted.


Practices that May Help You Sleep

The two challenges we mentioned a moment ago, being unable to sleep and choosing to not sleep, have to be approached in different ways. 

First, we need to structure and schedule our lives to establish sleep routines. This is our choice, usually. As with everything else, disruptions come, but as a rule it is very important to keep sleep routines and patterns. There’s always times when your schedule robs sleep from you, but let those be the exceptions rather than the rule. The problem compounds when you choose to stay up too late and when you choose to sleep in and change your sleep pattern. 

Know how much sleep you need.

Seven to eight hours are standard. How do you know how much sleep you need? Simple, how do you feel? Yes, some people have seasons in their lives when 5 hours is sufficient (I think most people who say 5 hours is all they need are lying to themselves, in my opinion). Others need 9 hours or more of sleep. To some degree, you can tweak the amount of sleep your body needs, but do not kid yourself. Most likely you are a 7.5 to 8 hour person. Live with it. You are not Superman, you are not Wonder Woman. Try 8 hours a night for a few weeks and see how you feel.

Have a set bedtime.

One of the wonderful things about growing up is you can go to bed whenever you want. I think we never get beyond the wonder of such freedom. Wayne Cordeiro, in his book, Leading on Empty, talks about the importance of a sleep schedule. He says if you want to sleep in, do it on the front end. In other words, if you feel tired, rather than sleeping in, go to bed early, but get up at the same time every morning. 

We cannot stress the importance of a set bed time and rising time. Weekdays, weekends, holidays, work days, etc. When you change up your sleep schedule, you are disrupting patterns. When you are younger you recover quicker, but recovery is still necessary. 

I have no answers for those who work swing shifts. I’ve never done that and I greatly sympathize. The principle is, the closer you can stick to a routine and pattern the better off you will be. 

I used to go to bed late and get up early on work days and then “catch up” on the weekends. Catching up, when it comes to sleep is a myth. 

I am often amused when I get up at 5 or 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, because that is my body’s program, but wow, I so enjoy feeling refreshed and enjoying quiet mornings. 

Manage your time and schedule.

When you know your nights will be interrupted, as is the case when you have small children, manage your outside commitments accordingly. Overcommitment has to be made up somewhere, and often the only thing that gives is our time to sleep. 

As a leader, there are always some parts of your schedule you CANNOT manage, so you have to manage the things you CAN. Sometimes you have to make hard choices because your sleep realities must inform your daytime schedule. 

Compensate for “jet lag.”

Jet lag has been a problem for us lately. It can be actual jet lag, where you’ve transgressed time zones, or it may be a schedule that has you out until 2 a.m. on a couple of nights. 

We travel a lot. We’ve found that when we can stay in a hotel and keep our sleep schedule we are better off than dead-heading it home and getting in bed at 2 a.m. When our sleep schedule is disrupted to such a degree, it takes about 2 days to feel normal. 

We recently took a trip to India. The time difference was 9 1/2 hours, the flight odyssey took 32 hours. It took a week to recover. I have to fly back to Europe this weekend (note the work “have to”). Normally I would be excited, and I am to some degree, but I am still tired from the last flight. How do we compensate? You have to build in recovery time. You must strategize as to how you are going to recover. Have a plan. Put it in your schedule. You cannot just keep rolling. 

This is how we encourage depression. We are worn out and the world starts looking blue. 

Bedtime routines. 

Establish your bedtime routines so you can go into auto-pilot and just go through the routines. Facing unnecessary challenges right before bedtime isn’t your friend. 

Decide at what time you will shut off the electronic devices, decide at what time you no longer respond to phone calls, emails, or text messages. 

Start clearing your head and removing the possibility of a surprise attack of stress.  

Think through your phone and notification modes, and set them to not go off, yet have an emergency method of contact. I have a separate phone number that only family and a couple of friends have. Notifications are always on for that number, off for everything else. 


I personally avoid medication or anything to which I may become dependent upon. On the very rare occasion that sleep feels like it is going to be a problem, I will take melatonin, which is a natural supplement, and it really does work for me. 

The first few nights after my spouse died, I took Z-Quil, the next few nights I took melatonin, after that, God showed me much grace and mercy and I was able to sleep. 

Some Practical Practices

Yes, we do know many of these things are easier said than done, they do require discipline. 

  • Assign waking hours to problem solving and sleeping hours as a time to sleep. Discipline your mind to put problem solving off limits when you are supposed to be sleeping. 
  • Use mental diversions. Pray in the Spirit, mentally re-play a recent round of golf, make up a running story in your head that you go back to nightly, pace through entertaining scenarios. All of these things are like “counting sheep,” come up with a mental diversion that works for you. 
  • Prayer. Present your problems to God and then move on from them. Do not dwell on your problems prayerfully while trying to go to sleep. Instead, listen to the heartbeat of God and think upon what the Spirit of God is revealing to your spirit. 
  • If something that needs attention pops into your head, tell yourself  it is not time for that, if it is truly important you will remember in the morning, and if not, it is what it is, this is the time for sleep. If it is something that you are really, really concerned you will forget, jot down a note, or send yourself a text, then forget about it.

And when you do wake up in the middle of the night…

  • Stay in bed (don’t pull out the computer, phone, or electronics) “Blue light” and the effect of electronic screens on our brains.
  • Practice letting go of the chaos in your brain
  • Mentally quote scripture
  • Rehearse the lyrics to a song that has meaning to you
  • Pray and listen

Again, we do not want to be trite. Biology and crisis sometimes overwhelms us beyond our mechanisms. 

Consider All Four Zones in Your Sleep Practices

In episode 87 we talked about managing energy levels in four zones, the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. The way you manage those zones will affect your sleep. 

  • With the spiritual… is it well with your soul? If not you will have a hard time sleeping soundly.Journalling the things God reveals to you will help you keep a spiritual perspective that will carry over into the night. 
  • With the emotional… are there unresolved emotional conflicts, those thing affect your sleep. Are you managing your mental health? Are you keeping perspective and anchoring in truth (telling yourself a true story)?
  • With the intellectual… the problems that demand solutions, and keeping your problem solving in the right place. Do you control your thoughts during the day? Establish a pattern of thinking on good things during the day and that pattern will carry over into the night. 
  • With the physical… are you in good physical condition? This will affect your sleep. Are you exerting yourself physically enough during the day to be physically tired at the end of the day. Physical exertion is just as important to the patterns and rhythms of our life as are spiritual and intellectual exertion. 

The Peace Factor

  • Do you have a TRUST problem?
  • Do you have a general sense that things will work out the way they are supposed to? This is a big thing where we are right now. I don’t have a regular paycheck like I did the entirety of my teen and adult life. We have limited reserves. I should be laying awake at night terrified. I am not. We are following the direction of God for our lives to the very best of our ability. We must trust God to show us what we need to do each day. 
  • Every day has enough trouble of its own. Do you borrow trouble from tomorrow. Here’s the reality, the vast majority of things that COULD happen, that you worry about, do not happen. Let’s get real here. I could have laid in be awake every night worrying that my wife would die. She did. But better to deal with things that actually do happen than manufacture crisis and trouble, much of which will never happen. Reserve your energy for things that are actually happening. 
  • You’ve got to have faith and confidence that God is with you, you have done the best you could to live a life pleasing to God, you will move through the difficulties in life, and everything is going to be okay. 

Affirmations bring peace. You may need a list of scriptures you read every night to remind yourself to trust. You may need to write down a few affirmations to read as a part of your bedtime routine. 


If you do not sleep well you will battle depression. When we are weary the world takes on a blue tinge. Not sleeping well is like a perpetual motion machine, you can’t sleep, your mind dwells on problems, you don’t have the energy or acuity to deal with challenges, your problems get bigger, you have a harder time sleeping because even more is on your mind.

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