There’s a shocking cure for the baby blues: sleep deprivation.
The New York Times reports that depressed new mothers who stay up all night will find their depression lifted by morning. They say:
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.
Most new parents are painfully familiar with sleep deprivation, and I’ve never heard anyone say it made life with a new baby better. What’s up with this research? Sleep deprivation sends depression packing. This little-known benefit of insomnia has been documented in study after study over the past 40 years. This is too good to be true, right?
The trick is that while sleep deprivation lifts depression quickly and effectively, the effect lasts only as long as your wakfulness. As soon as you collapse into sleep during one of your baby’s blessed naps, your depression will creep back up to greet you when you wake.
Since everyone has to sleep sometime, this isn’t a very effective treatment. Sleep deprivation causes memory problems, impairs decision-making, and can lead to watching reruns of entire seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with a sleeping baby on your lap. Um, hypothetically speaking.
These sleep deprivation findings offer important clues about what causes depression and how to treat it, even if staying up all night isn’t the ultimate answer. Research points to too much REM sleep and too little sustained deep sleep being the culprit, but there’s no smoking gun yet.
In the meantime, new parents are unlikely to treat their postpartum depression with deliberate sleep deprivation. But if you find yourself greeting the sunrise after a sleepless night with a fussy babe, go ahead and smile. Science says you’ll enjoy a brighter mood until you succumb to sleep again.
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