Is depression keeping you up at night? Staying awake may be the key to rapidly improving your mood.
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania looked back at decades’ worth of studies on sleep deprivation and concluded it can temporarily improve symptoms of depression in up to 50 percent of people.
All forms of sleep deprivation, ranging from partial (20 to 21 hours without sleep) to total (up to 36 hours), were an effective anti-depressant for patients across demographics, according to the analysis of 66 English-language studies on the topic from 1974 to 2016. What’s more, patients reported feeling better within as little as 24 hours after treatment.
“These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations,” the study’s lead author, Elaine Boland, a clinical associate and research psychologist at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Centre said.
“Regardless of how the response was quantified, how the sleep deprivation was delivered, or the type of depression the subject was experiencing, we found a nearly equivalent response rate,” she said.
The study, first published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, acknowledged that more research needs to be done to determine why lack of sleep eases depression so rapidly.
“More than 30 years since the discovery of the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation, we still do not have an effective grasp on precisely how effective the treatment is and how to achieve the best clinical results,” study senior author Philip Gehrman, an associate professor of psychiatry and member of the Penn Sleep Center, told Penn Medicine.
One 2015 study found that sleep deprivation affects a receptor in the frontal lobe that is also affected by tricyclic antidepressants and ketamine.
The potential link between sleep deprivation and mood enhancement is nothing new. German psychiatrist Johann Christian August Heinroth noted the connection 200 years ago.
Heinroth, who also coined the term “psychosomatic illness,” found that sleep deprivation had positive effects on patients suffering from depression, or what he called “melancholia.” Since then, doctors have experimented with several types of sleep deprivation on depressed patients.
Wake therapy, first developed in the 1970s, is sometimes administered to patients to jump-start improvement in depressive symptoms. While effective, the benefits are temporary and patients report a return of their symptoms days to a week after treatment.
Another form of sleep deprivation called chronotherapy, which combines forced wakefulness with bright light therapy, may stave off depressive symptoms longer, research suggests.
Although sleep deprivation can alleviate the symptoms of depression, anti-depressant drugs and psychotherapy are considered the most effective treatments.
Updated September 21st 2017
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