It may sound strange, but for decades it has been known that sleep deprivation could rapidly relieve symptoms of depression. A new meta-analysis from a team at the University of Pennsylvania that examined more than 30 years worth of studies on the strange phenomenon and concluded that sleep deprivation could result in antidepressant effects in up to 50 per cent of people.
Nearly 200 years ago, Johann Christian August Heinroth, a German psychiatrist successfully experimented with sleep deprivation as a treatment for, what he called at the time "melancholia." The recent decades have seen the phenomenon emerge as a major area of study for psychologists and a process called Wake Therapy was developed to quickly alleviate major depressive symptoms and jumpstart treatment with antidepressant drugs.
"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," says senior author of the new study Philip Gehrman.
In the study, the team focused on 66 studies out of a pool of over 2,000 to understand what variable either increased or decreased the efficacy of a sleep deprivation treatment for depression. In generating its findings the team factored in age, gender, accompanying medications and different types of sleep deprivation ( total, partial, early or late).
''These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations,'' said lead author Elaine Boland, PhD, a clinical associate and research psychologist at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center, in a press release.
''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.''
The researchers found that partial sleep deprivation- sleep for three to four hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours worked as well as total sleep deprivation, being awake for 36 hours.