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Can Sleep Deprivation Help Depression?

By Randi Morse 

Any mental health illness is a heavy burden to bear, and every year millions of Americans suffer from the symptoms of depression. Fortunately, doctors, psychologists, and therapists have worked together to create medications and therapeutic treatments that can be extremely beneficial in relieving the symptoms of depression. But because depression has not been eradicated, they are always looking for new treatment options for patients who suffer from this debilitating diagnosis. 

One question I saw recently asked if sleep deprivation could help ease the symptoms of depression. I immediately thought that the question was silly, and that there was no way that sleep deprivation can help somebody who has depression. In fact, most patients diagnosed with depression are told to get on a regular sleep schedule. So why did that person think that sleep deprivation was a good idea? 

Pennsylvania Study 

The idea that sleep deprivation can work to help somebody with depression is, surprisingly, not a new idea. The idea has been around for a long time, but it's not something most people talk about. In 2017, the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine published an article about sleep deprivation and depression. They researched 66 studies that have been conducted about this topic within the last 40 years. What they discovered was shocking. They found out that in about half of all the studies, sleep deprivation helped to ease depression symptoms within 24 hours. 

People with depression were asked to sleep for three to four hours and then were told to stay awake for at least 20 hours. Those who followed the protocol found that they felt a lot better after their period of no sleep. The study even looked at results for staying awake for 36 hours and determined that this, too, was beneficial for patients with depression. 

The Catch 

But wait, that sounds too simple, doesn't it? You know what they say, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and that is very true of this study. What researchers also discovered is that 80 percent of the people they researched who found that their symptoms were reduced by lack of sleep, had their symptoms return once they had a solid night's sleep. No one knows for sure why sleep deprivation can help depressive symptoms, but what we do know is that it can only help in the very short-term period which might be helpful as traditional depression medication often takes weeks to kick in fully. 

Before you try any sort of sleep deprivation to help with a mental illness, make sure you speak with your physician first; our bodies need sleep, and going without may cause more harm than good. 

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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