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Laughter or humour interventions improve depression and anxiety symptoms by a small to moderate amount. Laughter interventions also improve sleep quality by a small amount.
Zhao J, Yin H, Zhang G, et al. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of laughter and humour interventions on depression, anxiety and sleep quality in adults. J Adv Nurs. 2019;75:2435-48.
In adults, do laughter or humour interventions reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety or improve sleep quality?
Many people have feelings of depression or anxiety and sometimes do not sleep well. Laughter can have positive effects on people’s emotions and overall health. This review looks at the effect of interventions that use laughter or humour to reduce feelings of depression or anxiety or improve quality of sleep.
How the review was done
The researchers did a systematic review of studies available up to December 2018. They found 10 randomized controlled trials that included 814 adults. Most people were 60 years of age or older, and most were women.
The key features of the studies were:
- some people had no specific health conditions; some had schizophrenia, chronic obstructive lung disease, breast cancer, depression, or Parkinson disease;
- laughter interventions were assessed in 7 studies and included activities such as talks and discussions, learning laughter techniques, laughter yoga, or breathing and physical exercises;
- humour interventions were assessed in 3 studies and included skills training, watching humorous movies, or interactions with clowns or similar persons and tailored to residents’ specific needs;
- laughter or humour interventions were mostly done for 1 to 2 hours, once or twice per week, for 2 to 12 weeks; and
- most interventions were done by trained professionals and compared with usual care.
What the researchers found
Compared with usual care or control, laughter or humour interventions reduced depression and anxiety symptoms by a small to moderate amount immediately after the intervention. Laughter interventions also improved sleep quality by a small amount compared with usual care.
Laughter and humour interventions reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety compared with usual care or control interventions. Laughter interventions improve sleep quality compared with usual care.
Laughter or humour interventions vs control* for outcomes immediately after the intervention
Depression scale score
9 trials (750 people)
Small to moderate improvement
Anxiety scale score
7 trials (599 people)
Sleep quality scale score‡
2 trials (133 people)
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.
Related Evidence Summaries
British Journal of Psychiatry (2015)
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2016)
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2015)
Related Web Resources
Informed Health Online
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This patient decision aid helps adults diagnosed as being depressed decide on the type of medicine by comparing the benefits, risks and side effects of each antidepressant.
UpToDate - patient information
Delirium is the result of brain changes that lead to confusion, lack of focus and memory problems. There is no specific treatment for delirium - it is best to avoid risks, treat underlying illnesses and receive supportive care. Sedatives and physical restraints should be avoided.
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