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Depression Health Center

Dreams May Hold Key to Beating Depression

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Try it at home, Cartwright says.

With a little help from some friends, she's invented what she calls a "home dream recorder." It's not on the market just yet, and won't be until she has published her study results.

The home dream recorder has an EOG monitor and a movement monitor, so it's clear whether the person is awake or asleep. "If they're still and their eyes are moving, they're probably dreaming," she says. An alarm is programmed to go off when the EOG shows eyes are moving for five minutes. The person speaks their dream into a voice-activated tape recorder, then the equipment resets automatically. Next time REM sleep begins, the recorder activates again.

"It's the do-it-yourself approach," she says.

But it's not for everyone, Cartwright tells WebMD. "People with a history of serious depression, childhood abuse, no good love relationships, need some help rebuilding."

Eric Nofzinger, MD, is a sleep disorders specialist and associate professor of psychiatry with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has conducted functional brain imaging studies during REM sleep, and those studies too have shown that the "emotion areas" of the brain are indeed very active in the dreams of people who are depressed. He has followed Cartwright's work for a number of years.

"There is merit to her theory," Nofzinger tells WebMD. "The work she has done is very important, novel, and really is some of the only work that I know of that is trying to understand what is happening with our emotional character when we're asleep at night."

But other research has shown that while sleep-depriving a depressed person improves their mood, it's only in the short term, he says. "The effects are not long lasting, they generally reverse after the second or third day of sleep deprivation."

"I don't think anybody is at the point of saying that sleep deprivation or altering dreams is the best thing in the long-term treatment of depression," says Nofzinger. "There are a lot of things that do work, like medication and psychotherapy, and those are very well validated as the mainstay of treatment for depression. I see her work as an interesting theory that requires validation."

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