Lack of Sleep Could Bring on Depressive Symptoms

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Everyone knows that if you don’t get much sleep for a few days, you usually get a bit slow and perhaps even cranky, the world becoming a much harsher place because your mind is literally exhausted. But now researchers at the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands are conducting tests to understand how sleep deprivation creates symptoms that mimic or even cause depression.


Because rats have basically the same brain structure as humans, the rodents were used in an experiment to see what effects the lack of sleep has on the brain. They were only allowed to sleep four hours a day, rather than their normal sleep cycle for the test. After a week, their brains seem to exhibit the same types of issues that were found in the brain of a depressed human. For instance, the mood centers, responsible for handling emotion, mood and stress, had a reduced sensitivity to stimulus. After a month, even memory and cognitive issues started to fail. Scientists even injected the rats with serotonin, but found they had a very weak response to it, just as those who face depression do.

When the rats were finally able to sleep as much as they want, it took about a week for them to return to their normal sensitivity, meaning that recovery times from even a few days of reduced sleep can be quite long and there are lingering effects that perhaps are not felt when the restful sleep finally does come.

The new info has led the researchers to believe that doctors who are treating depression should also be addressing sleep problems, because it may be the reduced or lack of sleep may be causing the depression, rather than the other way around.

The study was reported at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s annual meeting in Hawaii.
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