Saturday, May 31, 2008

Staying up all night is GOOD for you!

I'm feeling down today. We had our carpets cleaned this morning and the flurry of activity related to that held the blues at bay until this afternoon. I was in the grocery store with my oldest and she was being so sweet and wonderful that I got depressed. I know, it doesn't make sense, but it was like all my love for her filled me up to bursting and it overwhelmed me and left me feeling, well, depressed. It was strange. This has happened on a few other occasions and I'm still trying to figure it out.

Anyway, I came home and tried to explain it to my husband. He gave me a hug and said that it was probably just the stress of trying to get the house clean for the carpet cleaners (yes, we had to clean for the cleaners!) and staying up late last night trying to finish my entries for the Irreantum contests. I told him he was probably right.

After all, it is conventional wisdom that if you aren't getting enough sleep you will end up depressed. I remember when I was leaving the hospital after the birth of my second and the nurse in charge of discharge information advised me to get at least five hours of sleep. She said that women who don't manage at least a five hour chunk of sleep are much more likely to end up with postpartum depression. Sleep, she said, was key to mood management.(Having had PPD with my first and perinatal depression with my second, I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. The story of PPD is so much more complicated than the amount of sleep a woman gets!) Then, just a couple months ago, when I was talking with my daughter's "feelings doctor" about whether or not my meds were still working for me, she suggested that I get 24 hours of sleep to give my system a boost. (Again, it was hard not to roll my eyes. How am I supposed to get 24 hours of sleep when I have three children?) The basic gist seems to be that sleep renews the body and refreshes the mind. But for depressed people this may not be the case.

It started in the late 1970s when a Swiss neurobiologist, Anna Wirz-Justice, recommended a sleepless night for a severely depressed patient. The results were quick and decisive. In the wee small hours of the morning the patient, who had previously been nearly comatose with depression, began talking and acting like, well, a normal person. Since then numerous studies have been done to test the effectiveness of sleep deprivation as therapy. The conclusions are intriguing. Supposedly 60% of depressed people see improvement within hours of skipping sleep.

Why it works is still a mystery. Some researchers suggest that glucose metabolism in the brain is the reason. Others say it has something to do with the way the depressed mind interacts with the REM cycle. Others suggest it has something to with how thyroid hormone is produced. (Sorry I lost the link to that last one.)

Counterintuitive as it may be, the whole sleep deprivation thing makes sense to me. I am constantly tired. I usually get around six hours of interrupted sleep and I'm yawning before I've finished dishing up my kids' breakfast. I almost always need a twenty minute power nap around 2:30 pm. I can usually rally for the bedtime reading and snuggling routine, but I'm exhausted by the time they are all down. I am always telling myself that I am going to get to bed early. But I don't. Turns out by about 9:00 pm I start perking up. My brain kicks back into gear and I find that I have a couple of hours of working time before I turn back into a zombie.

Of course there are couple hang-ups with sleep deprivation therapy. First, in almost all the studies, when patients returned to a normal sleep pattern (which is recommended since sleep deprivation is linked to diabetes and obesity) the depression returned. Second, it really isn't practical. Most of us live in families and work jobs. Staying up all night would work for me as long as I didn't have to drive anywhere. Or deal with children! Most experts seem to agree that this isn't a long term solution to depression. But, if you have a doctor that will supervise you and you are waiting for your meds to kick in or other therapy to start, this may be a treatment that works in the short term--it may give a glimmer of hope to someone who thought there wasn't any.

What do you guys think? I know some of you readers are way better educated than me and have more experience, any of you tried this? Be sure to comment and let me know.


Kelly said...

I always figured I perked up at 9 pm because my children were finally in bed and for the first time all day I got to do what I wanted for me, instead of doing what other people needed the whole rest of the day.

I can't help but think that even if staying up all night makes you feel good, at some point you come crashing down and that lack of sleep will ultimately make you feel worse. But I don't know. That's just how it works for me.

Elizabeth-W said...

How about the idea that when people are bipolar and are entering a manic phase they have a decreased need for sleep? And it seems the less sleep they get the higher they get. And we know if people go without sleep for long periods of time they become psychotic/hallucinate.
I've never heard of this idea but it's intriguing for sure.
I think Kelly's logic makes sense, too--finally having some alone time. It's maybe less about an energy boost, but a mental Yea Me! in that you don't have to be 'on'--you can just relax a bit.
Interesting topic!

Laura said...

The clinical studies people have done show that several things happen in the brain--certain hormones are produced, certain processing centers shutdown and others open up--but nobody really understands why any of that helps. I wonder if they monitered people's brains while they were doing what they liked (as opposed to just staying awake for the heck of it) if they would see similar changes. It certainly is interesting!

Heathie said...

Very interesting! I've always been intrigued by sleep and how it relates to health, but I've never really taken an opportunity to study it.
But I'm like you; during the day, I think, "I just need some sleep..." Like it will make everything better. Then at night my brain goes, "bing!" and I'm wide awake for at least three more hours.

m said...

You know, when I was really struggling- it was obviously because I felt overwhelmed by everything in my life...very standard, but I thought that if I'd stay up late each night, it would give me the "me" time that I needed to keep myself in check. I didn't know it at the time, but that was really bad for me. I'd stay up past midnight each and every night and get up at 7am. It wasn't enough sleep for me and I'd find that I felt like a pot boiling over all day long because of that deprivation. So who knows...I am sure I am happier when I am well rested. But what choice does a mommy with several children have? Someday Laura, I promise, you'll have the chance to sleep in. And when you do, promise me that you won't not want to. That is, remember how tired you are today and pay your self back when you're 50 and the kids are off being sleep deprived by their own merits!!!!