Perspectives in affective disorders: Clocks and sleep

Anna Wirz-Justice, Francesco Benedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Mood disorders are often characterised by alterations in circadian rhythms, sleep disturbances and seasonal exacerbation. Conversely, chronobiological treatments utilise zeitgebers for circadian rhythms such as light to improve mood and stabilise sleep, and manipulations of sleep timing and duration as rapid antidepressant modalities. Although sleep deprivation (“wake therapy”) can act within hours, and its mood-elevating effects be maintained by regular morning light administration/medication/earlier sleep, it has not entered the regular guidelines for treating affective disorders as a first-line treatment. The hindrances to using chronotherapeutics may lie in their lack of patentability, few sponsors to carry out large multi-centre trials, non-reimbursement by medical insurance and their perceived difficulty or exotic “alternative” nature. Future use can be promoted by new technology (single-sample phase measurements, phone apps, movement and sleep trackers) that provides ambulatory documentation over long periods and feedback to therapist and patient. Light combinations with cognitive behavioural therapy and sleep hygiene practice may speed up and also maintain response. The urgent need for new antidepressants should hopefully lead to reconsideration and implementation of these non-pharmacological methods, as well as further clinical trials. We review the putative neurochemical mechanisms underlying the antidepressant effect of sleep deprivation and light therapy, and current knowledge linking clocks and sleep with affective disorders: neurotransmitter switching, stress and cortico-limbic reactivity, clock genes, cortical neuroplasticity, connectomics and neuroinflammation. Despite the complexity of multi-system mechanisms, more insight will lead to fine tuning and better application of circadian and sleep-related treatments of depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-365
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2020


  • circadian rhythms
  • clock genes
  • connectomics
  • cortical neuroplasticity
  • neuroinflammation
  • sleep homeostasis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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