Chronotherapy for the rapid treatment of depression: A meta-analysis

J Affect Disord. 2020 Jan 15:261:91-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2019.09.078. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Background: Chronotherapy (sleep deprivation, sleep phase shifting and/or the use of bright light) combines non-invasive and non-pharmacological interventions that may act rapidly against depressive symptoms. However, to date no meta-analysis has been conducted to examine their effectiveness.

Methods: We carried out meta-analysis of 16 studies (four randomised controlled trials and 12 open-label case series) with between-subject comparisons between experimental and control conditions for RCTs and within-subject comparisons between baseline and follow-up for all studies.

Results: Overall chronotherapy was generally superior to other therapies such as psychotherapy, antidepressants, exercise or light therapy alone after 5-7 days. For RCTs, chronotherapy was favoured (Hedge's g = 0.62, 95% CI 0.23-1.01) compared to control treatments such as antidepressants and exercise. 33.0% of patients were responders after 5-7 days in the chronotherapy group and 1.5% of patients in the control condition (OR = 7.58, 95% CI 2.03-28.28). For the case series, large effect sizes were found by 5-7 days (g = 1.78, 95% CI 1.49-2.07). In the case series, 61.6% of patients were classed as responders.

Limitations: The number of RCTs included in this meta-analysis was small, and the potential for risk of bias could not be ascertained accurately. One specific limitation is that studies nearly all included in-patients and the results may not be generalisable to out-patients, and nearly all the subjects lacked credibility ratings before receiving treatment.

Conclusions: Chronotherapy appears to be effective and well-tolerated in depressed patients. Nevertheless, further clinical and cost effectiveness studies are needed.

Keywords: Depression; chronotherapy; light therapy; meta-analysis; sleep deprivation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Chronotherapy / psychology*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Sleep Deprivation


  • Antidepressive Agents