If you are like 300 million people across the globe resigned to dealing with depression, your sleep has been affected. That might mean you wrap yourself in a blanket and hibernate on the couch or sleep for two hours and spend the rest of the night live-tweeting 80s teen flicks. Often, people alternate between the two. And, though most people know that depression impacts sleep in these ways, far fewer people know that the reverse is true as well. The researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania did a 30-year meta-analysis that revealed sleep deprivation rapidly decreases symptoms of depression in approximately half of all depression patients. Yes, decreases. It’s counter-intuitive, right?
In clinical settings, partial sleep deprivation is defined as sleeping for three to four hours with 20-21 hours of forced wakefulness, and total sleep deprivation is defined as a total lack of sleep for 36 hours. Most people don’t throw themselves into either of these forms of deprivation. Instead, they take meds. But, anti-depressants take weeks to fully take effect, and sleep deprivation can improve depression symptoms in 24 hours.
Published in the Journal of Psychiatry, the study searched databases for English language work published between 1974 and 2016 that contained the keywords “sleep deprivation” and “depression.” Do you even PubMed, bro? To be included, the research had to conduct experimental sleep deprivation, state the percentage of participants that responded to the deprivation, offer a priori definition of antidepressant response, and avoid combining sleep deprivation with other therapies. Sixty-six studies made the cut.
The studies that met the criteria consistently demonstrated a 45 percent response rate to sleep deprivation in studies that used a randomized control group and 50 percent among those that didn’t. And, these results weren’t modified significantly by the type of sleep deprivation used, medication status among participants, the clinical sample, the definition of response, or the age or gender of participants.
However, before you brew some coffee and throw out your mattress, this is sleep deprivation generally administered in controlled, inpatient settings. The findings of this study indicate more investigation is needed into the mechanism that makes sleep deprivation reduce depression. Until that’s understood, a DIY approach isn’t a great idea.