Dangerous Reporting on Depression

Maybe you have seen the headlines in the past week or so about a new discovery, an almost instant cure for depression, sleep deprivation!

Now, if you only saw the headlines, and we know that many, many people only read a headline before acting on the information, or sharing the information, you might have missed a couple of important points that were mentioned in this, more balanced article:

But how sleep deprivation would be applied as a depression treatment is still a major question mark. For one, researchers don’t know why it works. One theory is that it “resets” the brain’s circadian rhythm; others suggest it might affect areas of the brain known to be involved in depression (areas involved in the brain’s default mode network) or neurotransmitter systems (e.g., dopamine). But no one really knows for sure.

The other problem is that when people later catch up on sleep, the effects of the initial deprivation are lost. “There has not been widespread adoption of sleep deprivation as a clinical treatment, however,” the team writes, “because improvements are typically lost following a subsequent night of sleep. Indeed, research shows that greater than 80% of those who respond to sleep deprivation relapse following a night of sleep.” Which sort of defeats the purpose. It’s also not easy to predict what effect additional “doses” of sleep deprivation will have for an individual, even if it’s successful the first time.

This is a much more complete picture of what these studies are finding, that short term sleep deprivation seems to do “something” to the brain that temporarily decreases the symptoms of depression. That’s all we know right now. We do not know what happens if you continue to deprive yourself of sleep in terms of depression symptoms, however we absolutely do know what the effects of long-term sleep deprivation are:

The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life

We know, for a fact, that there are massive health concerns that come from a lack of sleep, so I find it irresponsible of media outlets to blare out a headline across the internet that suggest you can completely alleviate your depression symptoms by depriving yourself of sleep. I hope no one read those headlines and started down that path. It might temporarily make you feel better, but it might also kill you in the long run.

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