Friday, April 9, 2010

The upside of all-nighters

Postpartum depression affects between 5 percent and 25 percent of new mothers. ... There is a simple way to alleviate postpartum depression in just a few hours: sleep deprivation.

If a depressed mother stays up all night, or even the last half of the night, it is likely that by morning the depression will lift. Although this sounds too good to be true, it has been well documented in over 1,700 patients in more than 75 published papers during the last 40 years. Sleep deprivation used as a treatment for depression is efficacious and robust: it works quickly, is relatively easy to administer, inexpensive, relatively safe and it also alleviates other types of clinical depression. Sleep deprivation can elevate your mood even if you are not depressed, and can induce euphoria. This throws a new light on insomnia.

This remarkable result is not well known outside a small circle of sleep researchers for three good reasons. First, sleep deprivation is not as convenient as taking a pill. Second, prolonged sleep deprivation is not exactly a desirable state; it leads to cognitive defects, such as reduced working memory and impaired decision making. Finally, depression recurs after the mother, inevitably, succumbs to sleep, even for a short nap. Nonetheless this is an incredibly important observation; it shows that depression can be rapidly reversed and suggests that something is happening in the sleeping brain to bring on episodes of depression. All this offers hope that studying sleep deprivation may lead to new, unique and rapid treatments for depression.

No comments: