One of the most common side effects for not getting enough sleep is the inevitable grumpiness that follows. Young or old, a lack of sleep can transform you from the nicest person you’d ever want to meet into a total jerk. Considering that on average about 30% of Americans report getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night, you’d think that being a jerk would be an epidemic. New research is suggesting that being grumpy is only a part of the problem with not getting enough sleep.
A new study at the Tel Aviv University conducted by Prof. Telma Hendler is showing that even just one night’s lack of sleep seriously impairs our ability regulate all of our emotions. The research, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience involved keeping 18 adults taking a series of tests. One test was administered after a good night’s sleep, and the other was given after a night of no sleep at all. The tests were simple: participants identified the direction in which a yellow dot was moving over an image that was either positive, negative, or neutral.
The purpose of the images was to illicit an emotional distraction – be it positive or negative. Also, Their brains were monitored during both tests with fMRI and EEG equipment to measure the emotional distraction’s effects.
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What the researchers found was that when people got a good night’s sleep they quickly identified the direction of the dots on neutral images, and with more accuracy. The EEG reading also showed the correct correlations to the positive and negative images. When people didn’t have any sleep, they not only misidentified the directions of the dots, but their brains didn’t show as much difference in the emotional distractions.
Basically, not only were they not performing the tasks correctly, which was expected, they weren’t showing any emotional response to positive or negative distractions.
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So, in other words, a lack of sleep doesn’t just bring out one emotion like anger, it dulls all our emotions. Hendler went on to say, “These results reveal that, without sleep, the mere recognition of what is an emotional and what is a neutral event is disrupted. We may experience similar emotional provocations from all incoming events, even neutral ones, and lose our ability to sort out more or less important information. This can lead to biased cognitive processing and poor judgment as well as anxiety.” Findings like these only go to strengthen the need for good, restful sleep.
Hendler is taking her research a step further and is studying how different types of sleep, like REM sleep, can actually work to bring balance back to our emotional regulation.