Picture: File Sleep deprivation might offer a new treatment for depression.
Sleep deprivation might offer a new treatment for depression. An analysis of 36 years of studies by the University of Pennsylvania suggests temporarily depriving patients of sleep can be effective in the short-term.

Their research, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, looked at 66 studies on people with depression who were deprived of sleep in a clinical setting. Sleep deprivation was found to temporarily improve symptoms in 50% of patients. The review also found that partial sleep deprivation (three to four hours’ sleep, followed by 20 to 21 hours of staying awake) and total sleep deprivation (being deprived of sleep for 36 hours) were equally effective.

History

Patients reported improvement in as little as 24 hours.The idea that depression can be helped by sleep deprivation has a long history.

Nearly 200 years ago, German psychiatrist Johann Christian August Heinroth successfully experimented with it as a treatment for what he described as “melancholia”, while “wake therapy” - a combination of long periods of wakefulness interjected with long-recovery “sleeps” is a technique used by some psychiatrists and sleep doctors to help treat chronic depression.

However, the researchers involved in the latest study say that it is a temporary solution and more work needs to be done to identify how sleep deprivation helps depression. One theory is that people with depression have disturbed circadian rhythms - the body’s “internal clock” - and skipping a sleep cycle can reset this and temporarily relieve symptoms.

Dr Nik Gkampranis, a psychiatrist and sleep specialist, says: “Evidence suggests that this is only a temporary fix, so if it is implemented as a therapy, I’d advise it to be used in conjunction with other treatments, for example antidepressants or cognitive behavioural therapy.” - Daily Mail