Pulling all-nighters can leave you tired, but it could also temporarily boost your mood.
Researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, studied the effects on mice of sleep deprivation and published their findings earlier this month in the journal Neuron. Researchers found that a “short period of acute sleep loss” increased levels of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that boosts pleasure.
The brain was also rewired to improve moods for several days following the sleep deprivation period.
According to a Northwestern University press release, the findings could help researchers understand how antidepressants lift mood and identify new targets for medications.
Researchers used “gentle” methods to prevent the mice from falling asleep during the study.
The animals that did not sleep showed more aggressive, hyperactive, and sexual behavior than those who stayed up all night.
Researchers also measured dopamine levels in four brain regions and found that they were higher in mice who had been deprived of sleep.
The majority of behavioral changes disappeared a few hours after sleep deprivation, but the antidepressant effects continued for several days.
According to Yevgenia Kozorowitskiy, associate professor of neuroscience at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, although there have been numerous studies on chronic sleep loss, short-term sleep deprivation is still poorly understood.
Kozorovitskiy said in the press release “We found that sleep deprivation induces a powerful antidepressant and rewires your brain.”
This is a reminder that even a short sleepless night can have a profound effect on the brain.
Dr. Shelby Harris is a clinical psychologist in New York and director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis. She was not involved with the study, but she shared her reaction to the results.
She stated, “The idea of staying up all night to temporarily relieve depression is intriguing.”
There are known mechanisms that sleep deprivation can lead to an improvement in mood.
Dr. Mirela Loftus, medical director of Newport Healthcare, New Jersey, also wasn’t involved in the study, but she said that it makes an “enormous” contribution to the ability to connect high-level functions such as depression and mood to cellular mechanisms.
She stated that “at least in this case, sleep deprivation caused dopamine to change — specifically, in the medial frontal cortex. This correlated with the reversal of depressive-like behavior in mice.”
Harris stated that sleep deprivation could potentially reset the brain’s rhythmic circadian cycle, leading to an improvement in mood and sleep.
Harris says that the study had limitations.
She said that the study’s limitations included its use of mice as a model, its focus on acute effects and lack of follow-up over a long period of time, its absence of variable confounding controls, resulting in fewer samples, and a non-standardized measure of affective state.
“Don’t try this at home”
Sleep experts warned against staying awake all night to combat depression.
Loftus said, “This study was conducted on mice. We must wait for human studies.”
The doctor warned that in patients with bipolar disorder, the lack of sleep could lead to a manic phase.
In other words, do not try this at your home.
Loftus believes that the true value of this study is its potential to aid in the development and testing of new depression treatments targeting dopamine receptors and the medial frontal cortex.
Kozorovitskiy noted that while there may be a biological advantage to being “intensely aware” after a period without sleep, the antidepressant effects are only “transient.”
She said, “I’d say it’s better to go for a walk or hit the gym,” in a press release. This new information is crucial when matching an individual with the correct antidepressant.
Harris reiterated this advice, stating that sleep deprivation can be a temporary solution with negative effects on both mental and physical health.
She stated that chronic sleep deprivation could lead to difficulties with learning, concentration, and memory. It can also increase your risk of injuries, accidents, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.