Have you ever had that experience where you and your friends are up studying late at night and you hit this wall where you can’t think straight? You all start to giggle at things that are not funny and next thing you know, you are all in the WEIRDEST mood? This state of tired giggles is something I have always heard being called the “Sleepy Ha Ha’s.” It is a mood you can enter where you are ridiculously tired and in desperate need of sleep and you find yourself high on your own exhaustion.
I decided to see if I could find any research done on this very small phenomenon few people have heard of. Although I did not find much information specifically focused on the “Sleepy Ha Ha’s,” I came across several studies that addressed a very interesting thesis: Sleep deprivation can help ease depression.
This theory was first suggested in the 1970s by researcher Gerald W. Vogel. He compared 14 non-depressed control patients and 14 depressed patients who matched in age and lack of sleep. Vogel than concluded from his results that sleep deprivation, specifically the deprivation of the REM stage of the sleep cycle, improved depression. Today, researches have been able to continuously correlate sleep deprivation and an improvement in depression, however they are still in search of the mechanism.
Recent studies from the Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute of the University of California, Berkeley has begun to form a connection between sleep deprivation and the brain’s ability to release positive stimuli. Glial cells called astrocytes regulate the human brain’s chemical that controls sleep. They release adenosine and as this neurotransmitter builds up, the urge to sleep gets stronger and depression seems to be improved but only temporarily, until the person falls asleep.
To test if sleepiness eases depression, The Translational Physciatry Journal reported how scientists performed an experimental study where they injected mice that had depression-like symptoms with adenosine so although they slept, the mice had an increased amount of the neurotransmitter that created the sleepiness feeling. Once they were awake, it was reported that the mice had an immediate rise in their moods for approximately 48 hours.
Now this study forces me to ask: How do mice have depression-like symptoms? What is being measured to diagnose a mouse with depression? What do researches use to detect an elevation in the mood of a mouse? Although this study at first seemed to create a strong correlation between a build-up of adenosine and relief of depression, one must step back to ask how these researchers concluded the mice were at one point depressed and then were no longer depressed. With such a soft-endpoint, a false positive could easily occur with this study.
Take Home Message: So based on this study alone, should you avoid sleep to ease your depression? I would say no. Although this study may support evidence of the alternative hypothesis, mice and humans are very different and more information on how the researchers measured depression in mice would be necessary. Now, based on the years of research for this thesis, should you avoid sleep? I would say maybe it would be worth asking your doctor about since other scientists have found strong correlations between the two. However, we must keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, so if it were up to me, I would definitely discuss with professionals.