Depression: Could sleep deprivation have an antidepressant effect?

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Sleep deprivation can have an antidepressant effect on some people. Ibai Acevedo/Stocksy
  • It’s generally known that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on mood, but a new study has found a paradoxical effect.
  • Research has revealed that just one night of complete sleep deprivation led to increased connectivity between the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex in the brain, resulting in improved mood in some individuals, including those with major depressive disorder.
  • The results suggest that understanding this brain connectivity could provide potential targets for interventions in the treatment of depression and shed light on the relationship between sleep and mood regulation.

In a new study published in PNASResearchers used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (RS fMRI) to map brain activity in specific regions, with the goal of understanding why some individuals experience an improvement in positive mood after a period of sleep deprivation, although most people generally have a negative impact.

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Lack of sleep is a widespread problem negatively affecting the mood and well-being of billions of people around the world.

According to researchers, sleep deprivation can actually lead to a rapid and significant improvement in mood for some individuals with depression.

To investigate why this happens, they looked at how certain parts of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation in people with and without depression.

They focused on the amygdala, which is involved in emotion control, and the dorsal nexus (DN), which is important for regulating mood in people with depression.

They found that the amygdala, an important brain region involved in depression, is affected by lack of sleep.

This new research shows that a single night of total sleep deprivation strengthens connectivity between the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with improved mood in both individuals without depression and those with the condition.

The researchers used fMRI RS, allowing them to see how different brain regions are connected as people rest.

They compared the brain activity of healthy adults and people with major depressive disorder after a night of total sleep deprivation in a controlled laboratory setting.

The results showed that losing a night of sleep made healthy participants more negative, but interestingly, it reduced depressive symptoms in 43% of patients with depression.

When they looked at brain scans, they saw that sleep deprivation increased connectivity between the amygdala and DN in healthy participants.

Specifically, the researchers found that when the amygdala was more connected to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) after sleep deprivation, healthy participants had better mood and depressed patients experienced improvements in their symptoms.

This suggests that the connection between the amygdala and the CCA is important for regulating mood in both healthy and depressed people.

It also suggests that developing treatments that improve this connection could be a quick way to help people with depression.

Dr. Atif Zafar, certified in stroke and vascular neurology at St. Michaels Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, who was not involved in this research, spoke to Medical News Today, saying, as a neurologist, I’m interested in seeing more research come out in this area to build on this work.

Dr. Zafar has set a precedent study suggesting that the amygdala-ACC connectivity may have implications for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Based on this paper and other previous publications, there is also an association between cortisol levels affecting this amygdala-ACC pathway, explained Dr. Zafar.

I [t]I think some of these patients in the PNAS study, with a diagnosis of depression, had changes in their cortisol level when faced with sleep deprivation. It is known that sleep deprivation leads to an increase in body stress which in turn leads to an increase in blood cortisol levels. Is it possible that, directly or indirectly, these cortisol levels may have enhanced the connectivity represented by fMRI? Or other similar confounding factors may have played a role in the fMRI results reported in this study.
Doctor Atif Zafar

James Giordano, Ph.D., Pellegrino Center professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, who was also not involved in the research, said MNT extension that the idea that short-term sleep deprivation can improve clinical signs and subjective symptoms of depression has long been known, as supported by both anecdotal evidence and a variety of research investigations.

However, the putative mechanisms behind the observed beneficial effects have generally remained unknown, Dr. Giordano explained.

The role of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in depression has been previously documented and serves as a valuable therapeutic target, in light of its connectivity to brain nodes and networks that appear to be involved in emotional stability, regulation, and mood. He added.

This is the first study to demonstrate using state-of-the-art neural imaging that one night’s total sleep deprivation induces changes in functional connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and regions of the amygdala, a brain region known to contribute to levels of cognition. , emotional and behavioral arousal, motivation, and general affection.
Dr. Giacomo Giordano

What I’m excited about is the potential of amygdala-ACC connectivity as an area of ​​future research in mood disorders, highlighted Dr. Zafar.

There is potential for targeted therapy that can be helpful in finding cures in a small subset of people with mood disorders, Zafar said.

Dr. Giordano agrees, saying the research further supports the role of neuroimaging in identifying key mental health and disease processes that may be viable for therapeutic targeting, using both low- and high-tech means.

The implications of this study are multiple, Dr. Giordano stressed.

First, it is that it demonstrates a potential mechanism for sleep deprivation-induced alleviation of depressive symptoms, he said.

Second, it supports this behavioral intervention (one night’s total sleep deprivation) as useful either as a primary or supplemental intervention, both in depressed patients and to enable positive mood regulatory effects in healthy individuals, he continued.

Third, these findings reveal the benefits of using combinatorial high-tech approaches to evaluate and identify the potential value of low-tech interventions that can be used for both therapeutic and health promotion purposes, further explained the dr. Jordanian.

Of course, it’s important for patients and the public to recognize that these protocols were conducted under rigorous clinical supervision and that people should consult their healthcare professionals before attempting any behavioral interventions, including sleep deprivation.
Dr. Giacomo Giordano

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