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Sleepless Nights Cure Baby Blues

By Sierra Black |

2128194432_75c0ef963c_m-1There’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.

Photo:Perfecto Insecto

More by Sierra Black:

Gay Teen Sent To Fake Prom

The End of Play

Nursing Someone Else’s Baby

Wives Privilege Husbands Careers Over Their Own

More on Babble

About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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17 thoughts on “Sleepless Nights Cure Baby Blues

  1. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Yeah, I came across this article yesterday morning, in the middle of a week where my toddler has been deciding anywhere from 2 to 4am is a great time to wake up. Then again, I am not depressed. But holy crap am I TIRED.

  2. AshaB says:


  3. Courtney says:

    Ok, what is with the crazy early wakeup times with Toddlers? How on earth is he so bubbly at 2am?

  4. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Damned if I know. Adjusting his bedtime one way or the other doesn’t seem to result in any better outcome. We figure we’ll make him pay when he’s fifteen. We have a whole week planned where we are going to wake him up in the middle of the night every two hours. Can’t wait.

  5. PlumbLucky says:

    Sick twisted little guys, aren’t they? Mine likes to party in his crib from 12-3 a.m., then GROWLS at me when I wake him up at 6:30. Unless its the weekend. Then he’s up and giggling, chipper, and calling for us at 6 a.m. WTH?

  6. GtothemfckinP says:

    wow…sounds like maybe sleep training doesn’t work out so well in the long term

  7. BlackOrchid says:

    Holy non sequitur Batman!

  8. Kikiriki says:

    Huh. My kids have always slept GREAT and they were both sleep-trained. My BIL’s kids, on the other hand, are all co-sleepers and nobody ever gets any sleep. Somebody is always having a nightmare or crying or because they woke up at 3 am and they can’t get back to sleep on their own. Oh, and did I mention that they’re 8, 6, and 2 respectively??? So gee, I guess it sounds like maybe co-sleeping doesn’t work out so well in the long term. :P

  9. PlumbLucky says:

    We had eight months of relative peace vs. the past three weeks of nighttime silliness. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it goes back to normal quickly. Co-sleeping, on the other hand…that meant that NOBODY slept in our house – baby, hubster, or me.

  10. PlumbLucky says:

    Back on topic: I do recall from university that after multiple all-nighters…you didn’t feel much of a goshdarnedthing EXCEPT maybe punchdrunk. (I had an architecture major. We were sick puppies and gluttons for punishment.)

  11. Kikiriki says:

    PlumbLucky, I think you’re right. Maybe the study was confusing “not depressed” with plain old zombie-style “numb.”

  12. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Kikiriki, you are absolutely right about co-sleeping… I fell for that crapload as a first-time parent. The kid I’m currently brewing is going to be sleep-trained, in a crib, in their own room, dammit.

  13. Jenny says:

    I always found sleep deprivation made me “feel” better, but once I got some sleep the depression was actually worse because I wasn’t fully rested and napping made me even more tired, grouchy, and unable to control my mood swings.

  14. Allison says:

    Is this a joke? My postpartum depression didn’t lift UNTIL I started getting some decent sleep!

  15. Rosana says:

    My son did not sleep thru the night until he was 14 months old. However, ever since that time he sleeps great all night long. I used co-sleeping until he was 3 or 4 months old while I had a bedtime rutine in place. He started waking up at night again (for a week) when we switched him from the crib to his own bed but now he sleeps all night in his bed. My daughter is 3 months old and I co-sleep with her too. I will put her in her crib eventually, when she is ready. So gee it sounds like co-sleeping or sleep training, every kid is an individual and you have to find what works best for him/her and you ;)

  16. [...] One plus side for those taking the road less slept upon: a truly sleepless night can boost a depressed new mom’s mood. [...]

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