Clinical psychologist Jennifer Felder, PhD, whose research has focused on new and expectant mothers, has shown promising results in addressing depression by helping patients improve their sleep.
“In my work with patients and in my research, a lot of pregnant and postpartum women have told me their depression was triggered by sleep deprivation,” Felder says. She decided to evaluate whether cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) could improve her patients’ sleep. Although CBT-I has been shown to help three-quarters of people with insomnia, there was reason to be skeptical: There are many practical reasons beyond true insomnia why pregnant women often have trouble sleeping, from physical discomfort to the frequent need to pee.
Nevertheless, in a randomized clinical trial of more than 200 pregnant women, Felder found that those who received CBT-I experienced significantly greater improvements in their insomnia symptoms than the other study subjects. “But what was also super exciting,” she says, “is that they also had improvements in their depression and anxiety symptoms. This is important because we were not targeting those symptoms. This was a sleep intervention, but it suggested broader benefits for these women’s psychological functioning and well-being.”