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Defying Science: Meet the Junior Who Is Both Depressed AND Sleep Deprived


Photo by Jessica Cross / CC BY 2.0

Once again, a Penn student has broken the mold in scientific research. This time, not as the scientist—but as the subject.

On the surface, Sasha Reinhart (E '19) seems a lot like most other Penn students: she studies long into the night, thinks constantly about her future, and often finds herself anxious about how she's doing in all other aspects of her life. She's struggled with mental health on and off since freshman year of college, and has been seeing a therapist once per week since early last year. "Overall, I'd say I'm a pretty normal kid," Reinhart said, "especially by Penn's standards."

But after researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published a study that found sleep deprivation to be "an effective anti-depressant," Reinhart instantly became a medical oddity. 

"It's weird, because I usually go into bouts of depression because I don't sleep," said Reinhart, dumbfounded by the news. "Once the first midterm of the semester comes up, I'm just in a constant cycle of studying until late at night, then waking up early to take the test, then staying up late to study for the next one, and so on," she continued, "and that's when I usually start to spiral."

Researchers are just as confounded. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, confirmed that "sleep deprivation causes rapid and significant reductions in depression severity." This would make Reinhart's situation–severe lack of sleep leading to sustained stress and clinical depression–impossible. 

"We ran the numbers, and nothing adds up," one of the study's authors, who did not want to be named, said. Although he could not confirm whether his research team is specifically planning on taking Reinhart in for examination, he did note that "her case is a compelling one, and will require further exploration to come to any scientific conclusions."

For now, Reinhart does not feel that the research has dramatically changed the way she lives her life. "I'm going to keep going to class and doing my work instead of getting a healthy amount of sleep," she said, resigned. 

At least now, she can do so with the knowledge that she is defying the laws of science.