One Night Of Sleep Loss Can Affect Body and Mind
Brains do a lot of work while we sleep—far from being a passive behavior, sleep is actually critical to brain health, and as a result, mental and cognitive health. A few new studies in recent weeks underline how important sleep is, and how detrimental lack of sleep can be. And not just chronic lack of sleep, but a single night of lost sleep. While many people may have heard that sleep deprivation can affect things like metabolism and memory, research is also showing that it can strongly affect anxiety, Alzheimer’s risk, and even chronic health at the level of our genes.
An interesting study from the University of California at Berkeley looked at one night’s loss of sleep on anxiety and emotion regulation in 18 healthy young adults. After a night of total sleep deprivation, participants reported a 30% rise in anxiety levels, compared to how they’d felt the night before—people who were allowed a full night’s sleep had no such flood of anxiety.
And the difference was reflected in their brain scans: Those who were sleep deprived had more activity in their amygdalae, the brain center of fear and anxiety. And in response to watching an emotionally charged video clip, the sleep-deprived participants also had much less activity in their medial frontal cortices, which help govern emotional reactivity. This suggests that sleep may help us keep rein of our emotions. If you’ve ever felt like an emotional basket case after a night of poor sleep, this may be why.
“Deep sleep provides a nocturnal soothing balm, taking the sharp edges off our lives and lowering our anxiety,” said study author Matthew Walker in a statement. “It’s a form of nocturnal therapy that many of us shortchange in this modern era of insufficient sleep.”