Washington, US (BBN) – Sleep deprivation — administered in controlled settings — may rapidly reduce symptoms of depression, a study claims.


Researchers found that partial sleep deprivation — sleeping for three to four hours followed by wakefulness for 20-21 hours — was as effective as total sleep deprivation for 36 hours, reports


Although total sleep deprivation or partial sleep deprivation can produce clinical improvement in depression symptoms within 24 hours, antidepressants are the most common treatment for depression, which typically take weeks or longer to show results.


The first review on the subject in nearly 30 years, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, hopes to provide relief for the estimated 16.1 million adults who experienced a major depressive episode in 2014.


Previous studies have shown rapid antidepressant effects from sleep deprivation for roughly 40-60 per cent of individuals, yet this response rate has not been analysed to obtain a more precise percentage since 1990 despite more than 75 studies since then on the subject.

“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,” said Philip Gehrman, associate professor at University of Pennsylvania.

“Our analysis precisely reports how effective sleep deprivation is and in which populations it should be administered,” said Gehrman.

Reviewing more than 2,000 studies, the team pulled data from a final group of 66 studies executed over a 36 year period to determine how response may be affected by the type and timing of sleep deprivation performed, the clinical sample, medication status, and age and gender of the sample.

They also explored how response to sleep deprivation may differ across studies according to how “response” is defined in each study.

“These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations,” said lead author Elaine Boland, a research psychologist at the Corporal Michael J Crescenz VA Medical Center in the US. “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,” said Boland.

Further research is needed to identify precisely how sleep deprivation causes rapid and significant reductions in depression severity, the scientists said. The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.