Wake therapy is a therapeutic approach that has been studied for nearly half a century. The main focus of existing research on wake therapy, also known as sleep deprivation, is its positive effect on depressive symptoms. Much of the existing literature on wake therapy has shown that it has a significant and rapid antidepressant effect. However, when long-term effectiveness is measured, the results are less promising.
Various forms of wake therapy exist as well. Some involve depriving individuals of an entire night’s sleep, while others require only half a night’s sleep deprivation. Some approaches incorporate light therapy and medications as adjuncts to treatment; others do not.
To test the validity and efficacy of wake therapy further, Klaus Martiny of the Psychiatric Centre Cophenhagen at the Rigshospitalet Copenhagen University Hospital gathered reports and evaluations from individuals participating in a nine week long wake therapy treatment. The individuals in residential treatment were evaluated for one week during the intervention phase of the treatment. Thirty-six of the participants were in the wake condition and had three nights of wake therapy interspersed with three sleep nights. Additionally, they had light therapy and stabilization sleep exercises during the day. The remaining 38 participants slept throughout the night and completed daily exercise protocols.
The results revealed that the participants in the wake therapy condition had dramatic decreases in depressive symptoms compared to the control participants. On the fifth day, response rates were 75% and 25% for wake and nonwake participants respectively and remission rates were 58.6% compared to 6% for controls. Although these rates declined slightly at the eighth day to 41% response and 19% remission for wake therapy participants, the outcome was still better than the effect for nonwake controls who saw only 10% response and 4.7% remission by day 8.
Martiny also discovered that napping had a significant effect on moods. “In the wake group napping on days after intervention predicted greater deterioration on day 8,” added Klaus. Although the sample size studied in this research was small, the results support previous evidence of the benefits of wake therapy. Efforts should be focused on sustaining these effects and research should look more closely at ways to extend wake therapy treatment over longer durations for individuals with major depression.
Martiny, K., Refsgaard, E., Lund, V., Lunde, M., Sørensen, L., et al. (2013). The day-to-day acute effect of wake therapy in patients with major depression using the HAM-D6 as primary outcome measure: Results from a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67264. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067264
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