Depression And Sleep Deprivation as a Cure For Depression

Depression and Sleep Deprivation

During my research into depression and its remedies, I was amazed at how many times I came across mentions of sleep's effects on depression, and sleep deprivation as a cure for depression.

However when I thought about it, having suffered from mild forms of depression myself, I remembered passing many sleepless nights, unable to sleep at all, and finally climbing out of bed determined not to spend the whole day there. I do remember that on those days I would be more likely to suddenly feel like cleaning the house or wading through a pile of washing and ironing, jobs which on bad days I had no energy for at all. I used to think 'well I must have some nervous energy to burn off, that's why I couldn't sleep'

Now it seems, maybe that wasn't the case. According to studies, sleep deprivation will actually make those with depression feel a lot better the following day, although these studies also show, that the benefits are short lived.

Can't Sleep?

Staying Awake is Good
Staying Awake is Good

Sleep Deprivation as a Cure For Depression

One theory is that when suffering depression, the process of waking up in the morning leads immediately to thoughts of the very thing that is causing your depression. You wake up feeling a continuing sense of doom and blackness.

The fact is that in depression most people just want to sleep, as when awake they can't avoid thinking about the things that depress them. However when they do wake up, as the day goes on, these things slip further to the back of the mind, and they slowly feel slightly less depressed. As soon as they go back to sleep, the whole cycle starts right over again.

With a full night's sleep deprivation, the patient has then gone most of a 24 hour period without sleep, therefore depressed feelings have been somewhat subdued, and the brain found more stimulation.

Certain studies have shown a difference in reaction, according to the level of depression. Severely depressed patients seem to benefit most from trying sleep deprivation, whereas those who were under psychiatric help, or showing remission, found their symptoms worsened.

Anyone who is depressed should try it for themselves, and see if they benefit or not.

There are two methods of using sleep deprivation as a treatment for depression: total or partial deprivation.

Partial deprivation; sleeping the first half of the night only, and waking up halfway through, proved more effective than going to sleep later, or sleeping only the second half of the night.

It is thought that partial sleep deprivation, sleeping up to 4 hours a night, will have the same antidepressant benefits as total sleep deprivation.

Whereas with total sleep deprivation, the benefits are felt the following day, but are not long-lasting, sleeping four hours can be done continuously, over several days or even weeks, so naturally the benefits here are superior.

Even in patients with bipolar disorder can benefit. Research shows patients with bipolar disorder after sleep deprivation, are pulled from their depressed state to manic state. Manic states can cause sleep deprivation, lasting weeks and even months, so the cycle continues. The patient feels great, lighter in mood, and feel no need for sleep. Of course one should limit this, because of other health risks in prolonged sleep deprivation.

Another benefit of sleep deprivation occurs even when on drugs prescribed by doctors and psychiatrists. The antidepressants will work quickly and more efficiently during bouts of sleep deprivation.

Healthy folk, if deprived of sleep can experience mood swings and irritability. Folk with depression already have mood swings and irritability, so sleep deprivation reverses this.

In study so far, about 60% of patients studied showed immediate recovery after one night of sleep deprivation, although most relapsed following night.

Partial deprivation, up to 4 hours sleep is definitely the way to go for long-term treatment.

The ideal way to try for yourself, seems to be to stay awake a full night the first night, then limit yourself to 4 hours a night after that. Try this for a week or two, and see how you feel. I think in most cases, you will have positive results.

What is clear is that there are definite connections, one way or another, between sleep and depression. Most depressed patients suffer from either hypersomnia, or insomnia, or bouts of both. Depression causes people to want to sleep and nothing else, but it also causes them to lie awake at night tossing and turning.

On the other side of the coin, in patients visiting doctors with insomnia or hypersomnia, about 15% will be found to have depression.

If you know someone suffering with severe depression, who barely has energy to talk to you, and no matter how you try to animate them, you have no success, try visiting them in the evening and keeping them awake all night. You will find the next morning their mood will be elevated, they will be more lucid and talkative, and more likely to want to move around and do things. Try then to convince them to use an alarm clock and wake themselves up after only four hours, they'll see for themselves how much better they feel.

The optimum time for sleep appears in some studies, to be from 10pm-2am, 11pm-3am, or12-4 am, underlining the fact that sleeping only the first half of the night provides the best results.

In other reports, however, 2-6am 3-7am was optimal. It would depend presumably on your normal bedtime.

Sleep deprivation treatment was popular in the 1970s, but with the discovery of new and effective antidepressant medications, it was soon deemed old-fashioned and unhelpful.

Nowadays doctors are reconsidering and endorsing this treatment, finding it helpful even alongside these medications, as the body seemed to accept medication more easily.

Many psychiatrists were convinced by remarkable transformations of severely depressed, psychotic and even suicidal patients, back to relative normality after only a few hours.

Antidepressant medication alongside sleep deprivation, has proven to help prevent relapse into the depressed state, although these studies are still ongoing.

Other benefits of sleep deprivation are also being studied, including the possibility of aiding premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and benefits to elderly patients suffering with dementia, but these studies are also ongoing and inconclusive.

Several sources tell of a case where a severely depressed 80-year-old woman was prescribed a night of sleep deprivation. She was suicidal, spoke little and seldom moved. The remedy appeared to work; by the next morning she was talking and moving around, like a different person. She was quoted as saying that around 2 or 3 am she felt like a black cloud had lifted from her shoulders.

This supposedly happened in 2000, when a Swiss neurobiologist, Anna Wirz-Justice MD. remembered the studies from the 70s, and after trying every treatment at her disposal to help the old lady, decided to give it a try. Further studies and experiments have resulted from this case.

Researchers nowadays are experimenting with ways to use the human biological clock, and time sleep hours to coincide with the movement of certain hormones in the body.

For example, TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone, controls our levels of energy through our metabolism. Some, though not all depressed patients showed low TSH levels.

This is possibly as depressed patients tend to sleep a lot, and it has been shown that sleep inhibits TSH release, while sleep deprivation, all night or at the least in the early morning, is shown to boost the release of TSH.

Researchers will try to manipulate hormonal 'tides' by waking patients in the very early hours during a period of at least a week or two. Then they will try sending them to sleep early, and waking up at midnight. They will try different sleep patterns at different times of the night, and test the presence of different hormones. As this is still ongoing research and study, there are no results to report. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

Patients with severe depression, who only want to sleep, and are capable of sleeping all day and all night for several days or weeks at a time, would most benefit from at least one night of sleep deprivation. The benefits they would experience the following day may not be lasting, but just that short time of feeling 'normal' would show them that there is hope, that it is possible to get out from under that black cloud.

I have to admit that I've always been a person who needed very little sleep, but during bouts of depression I wanted to sleep more and more, but was plagued with insomnia.

When feeling in good health, I again need little sleep.

I for one am extremely interested in this surprising 'remedy' and will be watching with interest the results of any further research and studies.

More by this Author

Comments 32 comments

BV911 profile image

BV911 7 years ago

Thank you for this well researched and well written hub, I will definitely consider visiting a close friend of mine late in the evening, hoping that I can help her get out of her baby blues faster.

animal-backpacks profile image

animal-backpacks 6 years ago from Brighton

Great hub. I've written on this subject as well. When I suffered a bout of depression I didn't want to wake up as the places in my dreams were so much better than reality. As such you end up sleeping in longer, going to bed later because you're not tired and your mind is active and before long you're sleeping the completely wrong hours.

Thanks for a very good read.

dianew profile image

dianew 6 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks animal-backpacks.

Welcome to hubpages, I've enjoyed reading your stuff too.

Darren 6 years ago

hey diane, thanks so much for writing this ~ i suffer from mild depression and hypersomnia, and just pulled an all nighter and now i don't want to go to sleep, i feel so much more alert and sociable, full of ideas and in a more positive mood. i will try the 4 hours a night and see how that goes ~ i'm sure i can function on that much sleep!

dianew profile image

dianew 6 years ago from Spain Author

Hi Darren

Glad it helped, it really does seem to work.

Keep smiling!

profile image

deptherapist88 6 years ago

Hello dianew: First time on; I have been using sleep deprivation for over 18 years. I am medication-resistant and have never had any positive reaction to anti-deps or any other meds, re; my depression.

Ironically, [or not], I am a therapist, a L.M.H.C. who has at times recommended SD for patients with whom I was working, whose depression was not amenable to other approaches. I would be interested in corresponding with others who are using SD, either partial or total, to deal with their own dysthymic disorder[s]. I have considered writing an article/ self-help book, but lacked a vehicle with which to gain access to others using this approach, in order to obtain information & perspective into how others manage their depression, relationships, work and life in general. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Though there are a number of research articles out there, I have most of that info - - what I am looking for is anecdotal info from actual SD users.

Many Thanks - D.P.

dianew profile image

dianew 6 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for the comment DP and welcome to Hubpages.

I tried SD for myself and saw results, but other than that I can only refer you to the others who have commented on this article. Good luck with your writing!

Sue  6 years ago

Ever since I was a child, I have suffered from depression. I noticed that if I got up early in the AM, I felt better and had more energy. The other day, I googled "is there a correlation between sleep patterns and depression?" and found a ton of information on it. It's working for me. I have an appointment with my health care provider next week and will bring a copy of this to him to look over. I am on a ton of psych meds and am coming into the "elderly" stage of my life. Some of the meds I am on are not to be given to the elderly. So, I've got to get off the stuff. I would like my doc to be able to work with me on this so I can get off some of these meds. A great read btw. Thank you. SC

dianew profile image

dianew 6 years ago from Spain Author

HI Sue

Thanks for the comment, I hope you find your solution


Kittu 5 years ago

if have gone through the whole content but wanted to ask you something...actually one of my friend is undergoing through a problem.she is sleeping from past 1 week and just wakes up to eat that's it...she remembers nothing.what happened even when she was awake she just cant tell.we are really worried what to do..met any doctors but they just cant help it.they quited.could you please suggest e something.

dianew profile image

dianew 5 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, but I'm afraid I'm not the person to ask here. I am not qualified to advise you in any way, I just provide information and can only suggest specialist therapy. Good luck.

Lyra Carillet 5 years ago

I enjoyed reading your hub. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new hub. Keep up the good work!

Mariaa 5 years ago

Nice post. really very interesting things are said in this post. keep up the good job dude.

Emily 5 years ago

Thanks for this article! I found this so interesting. I've been struggling with depression recently and everyday I felt that it would be impossible to get out of bed and do anything. I'm feeling really good though after a night of not sleeping at all, which seemed surprising. A search on sleep deprivation (which I thought could only have negative effects) lead me to find this. I really want to give this a go now. I'm just wondering, can it be sustained indefinitely without any side effects? I always thought I was the type of person who needed lots of sleep, but maybe that just creates more depression?! I'm also curious about any more findings on this!

Josh 5 years ago

Actually, one of the reasons sleep deprivation works for depression is because of dopamine. (and also serotonin). Your brain uses up these chemicals when sleeping. When you do sleep deprivation, in studies they found increased dopamine levels after sleep deprivation occurred. (thus the reason it helps depression).

nina 5 years ago

Hi I am severely depressed and can sleep 24 hours a day. Even if i am not tired I can make myself go to sleep. I have never been like this before and would like to get back to how I was before. Going to give this a try. Fingers crossed, Many Thanks.

dianew profile image

dianew 5 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for reading and good luck, I hope it helps.

Crest 4 years ago

I've been inadvertently using this method my whole life, I hadn't thought of the fact that if it were done at proper intervals and precise increments it might have a testable application. It's just sort of the natural thing that I find myself doing when im feeling especially anxious from my depression.

Interesting, thanks.

dianew profile image

dianew 4 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks Crest, appreciate your comment. I hope you find your solution.

Guy 4 years ago

Hi. I just wanted to thank you for this really informative page. I searched Google for "want to stay awake depression," thinking it was a crazy idea that there would be no information on. Well after reading your article everything sort of made sense for me. I have pretty serious unmedicated depression and have always gotten around 4 hours of sleep a night. I truly do feel happier late at night, as long as I get 4-5 hours of sleep. Will continue to look into this.

dianew profile image

dianew 4 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for the comment Guy, I'm glad it was helpful. I hope you soon feel better.

AlanDoughtyXIII profile image

AlanDoughtyXIII 4 years ago

I wonder, can this therapy be tailored for anxiety sufferers? After all, I recall reading somewhere that anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin.

dianew profile image

dianew 4 years ago from Spain Author

Interesting point Alan, I would be interested to look into the possibility. Thanks for the comment and welcome to hubpages. Your hubs on music therapy look very interesting I will definitely take the time to read.

Dan L. 4 years ago

Hi Diane thanks so much for the article. I have always found sleep deprivation made me feel like Superman, not mania Superman but mind was clear headed away from negative thoughts and was social.

I recently had a great six days as the first night I slept maybe one hour then four to six hours then today woke up with my mind going to a very groggy confused state.

I would like to try long term benefits of 4 hours sleep after tonight of no sleep. I would like to talk more with you if possible for a proper schedule over e-mail. Thanks again for writing it.

KateWest profile image

KateWest 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Hmm, I am going to have to look into this. Might explain a lot, thanks!

dianew profile image

dianew 4 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, KateWest.

Chris S. - California 4 years ago

Hello everyone, Hello dianew,

Thank you so much for writing this article. I just turned 22 two days ago and have been suffering from depression for as long as I can remember... 9 years old is my earliest memories of these down feelings. I have recently looked into sleep deprivation to induce Mania, because I was once diagnosed with bipolar disorder but now diagnosed with major depression. Everything you write about I can agree with. The day that I go without sleep I am feeling sociable, active, productive. I dont even want to go to sleep when I feel like this, but by the middle or end of the second day I get a little tired and sleep for the sake of health. But only to return to groggy down feelings the next day with only optimism to get me through the day. I am doing it again as we speak to finish a lot of homework. It is 7am right now and I am about to go to class to take a final exam. I am hopeful, comfortable, and happy that I have been so productive and that I am awake because it is so hard for me to wake up in the mornings. I am always hitting the snooze button dreading to wake up, because my dreams and bed are so much more enjoyable to me. But to get to the point I highly encourage anyone suffering from depression to try this out because I feel it may work for me and you as well. I will try the 4 hour sleep cycle because that could work for the long run and seems healthier. Just thought I would share my experience so others can learn because that is how I have been learning myself. Good luck to everyone and hope this helps those that are on the fence about trying this out.

dianew profile image

dianew 4 years ago from Spain Author

Thanks for the interesting comment and good luck in your struggle Chris.

monit 3 years ago

How do you prevent yourself from falling asleep????

monit 3 years ago

How do you prevent yourself from falling asleep????

I have been trying to stay up but it becomes difficult after a few hours to stay awake.Please help

TilHinze 3 years ago

Hi there, does anyone have any suggestions about the easiest method to get their infant to sleep all night?

I have read many ebooks with ideas but I am still finding it very hard.


dianew profile image

dianew 3 years ago from Spain Author

Sorry can't help you there, don't know a thing about infants, but maybe another reader can help. Good luck.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article