Sleep deprivation can rapidly reduce the symptoms of depression, 30 years of research suggests.
Around half of people with depression who are sleep deprived under controlled, inpatient conditions feel better quickly.
Many see improvements in just 24 hours, in comparison to the weeks it can take for antidepressants to start working.
‘Wake therapy’, as it is sometimes called, involves staying awake all night and the next day.
Around 50% of people find their depression improves — until they sleep again.
There is evidence that staying awake for half the night, instead of the whole night, can be effective.
The problem, however, is that the therapy is not a long-term solution.
People typically feel depressed again after one full night’s sleep.
Sometimes taking a nap is enough for the depression to return.
However, the technique can help bridge the gap until antidepressants start working.
Wake therapy is sometimes referred to as a ‘response inducer’ or accelerator.
In other words, it is used when the patient needs a very quick release.
The conclusions come from a new review of 66 studies carried out over 36 years.
Dr Philip Gehrman, a study author, said:
“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.
Our analysis precisely reports how effective sleep deprivation is and in which populations it should be administered.”
They found that around half of people who were depressed responded to sleep deprivation.
It didn’t matter whether or not they were taking medication, what age or gender they were, or even the method of sleep deprivation used.
Dr Elaine Boland, the study’s first author, said:
“These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Boland et al., 2017).