Professor of sleep psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London
“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.”