Sleep Deprivation Could Help Depressed Symptoms in Short-term

 In Naturopathic News

No Sleep for Depression Relief

An interesting treatment for depression has made its way to the headlines of medical literature for the first time in almost 30 years – sleep deprivation.1 A new meta-analysis has concluded that sleep deprivation rapidly reduces symptoms of depression in about half of depressed patients. Sleep deprivation, as a treatment is generally administered in a controlled inpatient setting, and involves keeping a patient awake for a period of between 20-36 hours.

2 Types of Sleep Deprivation Studied

There are 2 types of sleep deprivation, which were looked at, partial and total sleep deprivation. Total sleep deprivation involves depriving a patient of sleep for 36 hours. Partial sleep deprivation involves the patient sleeping for 3-4 hours and then wakefulness for 20-21 hours. The meta-analysis found that partial sleep deprivation was equally as effective as total sleep deprivation.

Sleep Deprivation Produces Clinical Improvement in Depression within 24 Hours, According to Study

The effects of sleep deprivation can produce clinical improvement in depression in 24 hours, however, the study points out antidepressants are the most commonly utilized treatment for depression. Antidepressant medication takes weeks, and sometimes longer to have effects. Still, roughly 20 percent of the U.S. adult population fills a prescription for an antidepressant drug, annually. This research could help inform treatment options which have faster effects, as well as limit drug use.

Studies Have Shown 40-60% of Depressed Patients Respond Quickly to Sleep Deprivation

Studies have shown that between 40-60 percent of depressed patients respond quickly and beneficially to sleep deprivation. A total of 66 studies were extracted from over 2,000 over a 36 year time-span to determine how patients respond to sleep deprivation. The different timings of the treatment, as well as type of depression, medication status, age, and gender were all taken into account. The meta-analysis found that regardless of how response was quantified, the timing of the treatment, or the specific type of depression, response was similar. At this time, more research is needed to better define the best clinical application of this favorable treatment.


  1. Boland EM, Rao H, Dinges DF, et al. Meta-Analysis of the Antidepressant Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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