Findings from a meta-analysis published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry indicate that sleep deprivation in controlled, inpatient settings can reduce depressive symptoms in about half of patients with depression

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 66 studies to determine the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation. Specifically, the researchers wanted to investigate how response was affected by the type and timing of sleep deprivation (total vs early or late partial sleep deprivation), the patient sample (depressive or manic episodes or both; age, gender; medication status), and the definition used for “response” (ie, 30% reduction in depression ratings). 

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Among studies that included a randomized control group, the overall response rate to sleep deprivation was 45% compared with 50% among studies that did not include one. Patient response did not significantly differ between partial sleep deprivation (sleep for 3–4 hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20–21 hours) vs. total sleep deprivation (being deprived for 36 hours). Age, gender, diagnosis, medication status and response definition did not significantly affect response to sleep deprivation. 

“These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations,” said lead author Elaine Boland, PhD, 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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