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September 20, 2017

Penn study confirms anti-depressant effects of sleep deprivation

Sound sleep is often underlined as a fundamentally necessary part of leading a healthy, happy and productive life. The mental effects of inadequate sleep can be every bit as harmful as the physical symptoms, sometimes leading to varying degrees of depression and mood disturbances.

But in a study that may appear counterintuitive, researchers at the Penn Sleep Centers recently confirmed that controlled, closely monitored sleep deprivation diminishes symptoms of depression at a rapid rate in roughly half of patients.

The investigation, the first meta-analysis of its kind in nearly 30 years, looked at the results of partial and total sleep deprivation treatment taken from 66 studies over a 36-year period.

Partial sleep deprivation involves a short period of sleep for three or four hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours. Total sleep deprivation requires no sleep for 36 hours. Both treatments are typically administered in in-patient settings.

Previous reviews had found a rate of effectiveness between 40-60 percent for depression patients who underwent controlled sleep deprivation. Efforts to determine a more precise figure have not been pursued by researchers since 1990.

“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 study senior author Philip Gehrman, an associate professor of Psychiatry and member of the Penn Sleep Center. “Our analysis precisely reports how effective sleep deprivation is and in which populations it should be administered.”

The Penn study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, looked at a variety of factors in data from previous sleep deprivation research, including the type and timing of the treatment, the clinical details of a patient's illness, medication status, the age and gender of the sample, and how earlier studies defined "response" to the treatment.

Analysis of data from the studies included in the current research found that nearly half of depression patients responded positively to the treatment. Whether or not they were taking antidepressants, the most common psychiatric treatment for depression, did not appear to significantly influence the results.

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

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