Sleep And Sleep Deprivation: How Missing Even A Little Sleep Can Destroy Your Emotional Center
We all stay up too late from time to time. Especially in this modern age of being constantly on the move, of feeling constantly challenged to do more with less time, we have surely all skimped our much-needed sleep.
But just how much do you need sleep? There are a multitude of arguments out there on just how much sleep is the right amount, based on age, activity level and many other factors. But one thing that is becoming ever more clear just how much it messes us up if we don’t get enough sleep.
Edward Norton’s insomniac character in the film “Fight Club” famously described the waking life as seeming like “a copy of a copy of a copy,” and that is what many of us go through if we miss out on even an hour or two of our usual sleep time. Multiply these effects over the course of weeks or months, and you are looking at a mental and cognitive disaster in the making.
But new research is now showing just how muddled lack of sleep can make us emotionally too–a particularly dangerous thing, when you consider how many mental disorders stem from emotional dysfunction.
Consider a Tel Aviv University study that has identified the neurological mechanism that is responsible for the emotional dysregulation and increased anxiety that comes as a result of only one night’s lack of sleep. The study seems to show that even minimal sleep deprivation can derail our ability to regulate our emotions and apportion our brain’s resources for cognitive processing.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was led by Professor Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University’s School of Neuroscience.
“Prior to our study, it was not clear what was responsible for the emotional impairments triggered by sleep loss,” said Dr. Hendler. “We were actually surprised to find that it significantly impacts the processing of both neutral and emotionally-charged images. It turns out we lose our neutrality, the ability of the brain to tell what’s important is compromised.”
The study had 18 adult participants who were kept awake all night, and then asked to take two rounds of tests while undergoing brain scans using an MRI and/or and EEG. They underwent the brain mapping twice, once after a good night’s sleep and again after staying up all night.
Asked to judge the movement of dots over emotionally positive, emotionally negative, or neutral images. When they had plenty of sleep the participants were able to more accurately and quickly identify the direction of the dots’ movement for both the neutral and the emotionally charged images.
However, when they were sleep-deprived there wasn’t a very different response between the neutral and the negative images.
“It could be that sleep deprivation universally impairs judgment, but it is more likely that a lack of sleep causes neutral images to provoke an emotional response,” said one of the researchers.
It is a fascinating study, one that should be replicated with a larger group of participants. But anyone who has skimped on sleep and found themselves an emotional train wreck the next day can attest to the underlying concepts at work.
The lesson then is, as Samuel Jackson said in his famous reading of a snarky new “children’s” book decidedly aimed at parents, “Go the f*** to sleep!”