Sleepless Nights May Decrease Depressive Symptoms

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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  • marnie p

    marnie p

    August 1st, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Well now I am peplexed because here I was thinking that sleep is the end all and be all to good health, and now we hear that being awake actually can help with depressive symptoms? How can both be true?

  • jackie


    August 1st, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    how does this work? I thought we could all just ‘sleep over’ a problem and feel better. Stay up in the night? Does not sound too pleasant for a sleep-lover like me!

    Doesn’t the sleep pattern of the person matter here? Because I can see how it could easily be disruptive for a lot of people like myself!

  • Gabrielle


    August 2nd, 2013 at 4:20 AM

    So this sounds like it would be more for someone looking for a quick fix solution, but I am searching for something that helps out for the long term…

    I think that there are quite enough things that are quick fix solutions, and honestly, I can’t even imagine how being deprived of sleep could in any way relieve me of depressive symptoms in the first place!

  • Anne S

    Anne S

    August 3rd, 2013 at 4:29 AM

    I have never heard of WAKE therapy, only heard of people trying to get a little more sleep and help from that perspective. I guess in some ways it makes sense when you think about people who are depressed and who are sleeping away their days, maybe they would actually feel a little better if they would try to face the day, get in some interaction with others and therapeutic practices. . . and maybe something like this could help them with somewhat achieving this. It must not be quite as popular as others modes of treatment though because I would have surely thought that it would have been a little more on my radar screen.

  • Benita


    August 6th, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    For someone like me who believes whole heartedly in getting a lot of sleep at night and this being quite beenficial to one’s overall health and well being I cannot say that I believe that this sort of treatment could be good for anyone long term. I think that there are enough widely accepted studies and research available that clearly show that a long term lack of l=sleep plays a real detriment on the brain and on the body and over all this sort of thing really os not good on your health. It is important that all of us take care of ourselves and a large part of this is from eating right, exercising, and yes, getting enough sleep at noght. These are the things that fuel our bodies in a very good way and that allow us to be creative and healthey and productive. I have to hope that anyone who has the ebst interest of their patients in mind would also be ones to advocate this and only this sort of lifestyle for the long term.

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