Training to help adults get better sleep cuts risk of depression

A programme of training for adults to help them get a better night’s sleep has been found to significantly reduce risk of depression.

Researchers from Canada said the eight-week programme gave a good head start on preventing the onset of depression and suicidal thoughts among participants.

“People who did the sleep training reported less depression in a short time and no suicidal thoughts, which are important measures,” said Chris Merali, professor of psychiatry at University of Toronto Scarborough, who led the study.

The Sleep Nurses’ Training Program is designed for people who have sleep problems. It involves educating adults to improve their sleep health through advice about bedtime and wake time behaviour and strategies for sleeping soundly, such as sleep restriction and changing daily routines. The study was published in the journal SLEEP.

Depression is associated with a higher risk of death, disability and social outcomes, but there are no interventions specifically aimed at reducing that risk.

The aim of the study was to assess the effectiveness of sleep training among 326 adult participants recruited from across Canada.

Half of the participants were given the sleep training and half received a non-specific education programme. About two months after the training ended, half the participants were given a follow-up survey to assess their depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

In all, more than half the participants – 68.8% – had a mood disorder at the beginning of the study, but the programme did not lead to a worsening of symptoms, reported the researchers.

“We were surprised by the relatively low severity of depressive symptoms that people seemed to report in the short term and didn’t show any worsening to this point. Even though there was a lot of talk about the depression in the early phase of the study, and it did continue throughout the study, we thought it would be even more,” said Merali.

Studies on the effectiveness of sleep training for patients with depression have been found to be mixed, with some showing short-term benefits and some showing no effects. Some have even suggested improvements were short-lived.

“You see evidence based training programs where people follow some recommendations and if they do better, they have additional changes in their sleep and they do better again and again. You don’t see that the longer they do it. So you start to wonder: is it really that simple?”

The researchers noted there was evidence that antidepressant medication actually worsened symptoms in people with depression at the beginning of the study.

“They come in feeling miserable, and within a year the data showed that it actually made them worse. So I think there was a fair bit of uncertainty in the research about this. It came up in Australia a few years ago and was around the same time in the US, but then went away. So in that sense, we’re not the first to do this, but it was not supported and there was a lot of lobbying to do so at the time.”

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