Alice Gre­gory

Pro­fes­sor of sleep psy­chol­ogy, Gold­smiths, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don

Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

“The links be­tween sleep and de­pres­sion are well- es­tab­lished within the field of psy­chi­a­try. Peo­ple who suf­fer from de­pres­sion of­ten suf­fer from in­som­nia or hy­per­som­nia (ex­ces­sive sleepi­ness), for ex­am­ple. As­so­ci­a­tions are com­plex, and re­searchers have in­ves­ti­gated whether ma­nip­u­lat­ing sleep might have pos­i­tive con­se­quences for de­pres­sion. Cog­ni­tive Be­havioural Ther­apy aimed at im­prov­ing in­som­nia has led to re­duced de­pres­sion symp­toms over time.

The meta- anal­y­sis de­scribed here fo­cuses on an­other tech­nique: sleep de­pri­va­tion. This is a long es­tab­lished tech­nique that seems some­what counter-in­tu­itive, and lies in stark con­trast to the ther­apy men­tioned above. In the meta- anal­y­sis, it was found that re­strict­ing sleep is a rapid and use­ful in­ter­ven­tion for ap­prox­i­mately half of those suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion. I think that this in­ter­ven­tion holds great prom­ise. How­ever, it’s cur­rently un­clear as to how this might be re­alised. The prob­lem is that when those with de­pres­sion are per­mit­ted to sleep nor­mally again, the ben­e­fits tend to dis­ap­pear.

So while sleep de­pri­va­tion may not yet be a very use­ful in­ter­ven­tion, the tech­nique could per­haps be de­vel­oped in ways so as to re­duce de­pres­sion symp­toms over longer pe­ri­ods. As the au­thors note, the next step is to fur­ther un­der­stand the mech­a­nisms by which sleep de­pri­va­tion im­proves mood. Could it help to re­set the body clock, per­haps? Could elu­ci­da­tion of the neu­ro­trans­mit­ters in­volved help us to de­velop treat­ments in the fu­ture? We don’t yet know where this knowl­edge will take us, but meta- analy­ses of this type are im­por­tant in telling re­searchers where we need to go next.”

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