Mind & Body

Feeling Depressed? Sleep Deprivation May Be an Effective, Immediate Solution

There's no shortage of misconceptions around depression. For one, it's a whole lot more than just being down in the dumps every once in a while. While there's no cure-all for this very common mental health disorder, there are ways to alleviate symptoms. Believe it or not, one way to keep depression at bay is to deprive yourself of sleep a little.

No, You're Not Dreaming

The best way to wake up cranky? That award goes to sleep deprivation. (It literally. Eats. Your. Brain, for goodness sake.) But only giving yourself a few short hours of shut-eye may not be all that bad. In a weird, counterintuitive turn of events, a little sleep deprivation may be an effective antidepressant. According to a 2017 meta-analysis that looked at 66 studies conducted over 36 years related to sleep and depression, cutting down your sleepytime proved to be an effective depression-killer in nearly half of all depressed patients. The results were published in September 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

"These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations," lead author Elaine Boland, PhD, a clinical associate and research psychologist at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center, said 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."

You Up?

Any relief from depression is a huge step in the right direction. Though it's a treatable condition, it's not entirely curable by any one method. It's a huge problem, too; it is estimated that 16.1 million adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2014 alone. Antidepressant pills are the most common defense against the disease, but many of that medication takes weeks or longer to kick into effect. According to this meta-analysis, sleep deprivation can produce clinical improvement in depression symptoms within 24 hours.

Partial sleep deprivation (sleep for three to four hours plus forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours) was — thankfully — equally as effective as total sleep deprivation (being deprived of sleep for 36 ungodly hours), and medication did not appear to significantly influence these results. We're not saying insomnia is the answer, but... we'll let the research do the talking. The authors note that further research is needed to identify just how sleep deprivation causes rapid and significant reductions in depression severity.

For more advice on defeating depression, check out "The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time" by Alex Korb. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

The Science of Depression

Looking for more ways to live a happy life? Listen to our conversation about the psychology of happiness on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, and Gretta.

Written by Joanie Faletto October 12, 2017

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