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 In Blog, Emotional Regulation, Sleep

Lack of Sleep Heightens Emotional ResponseNot sleeping enough has a big impact on the body. Insufficient sleep can cause stress and hunger, and can increase the chances of getting sick. A new study from Tel Aviv University investigated “how a lack of sleep leaves us with a short emotional fuse,” as study author Talma Hendler describes it. The study evaluated how people with and without sleep reacted to a series of images. The results demonstrated that sleep-deprived individuals are easily provoked into an emotional response.

The researchers conducted two experiments with 18 participants. The participants completed the experiments after getting a good night’s sleep and again after staying up all night. In the first experiment, the participants were asked to identify the direction of dots moving across a screen. The dots were overlaid with emotionally neutral, positive, or negative images. In the second experiment, the participants went through a functional MRI (fMRI) scan while looking at neutral and emotional images.

The results of the first experiment showed that participants who slept were quickly able to identify the movement of the dots when an emotionally neutral image was on the screen. When the participants were sleep deprived, they performed poorly when neutral and emotional images appeared on screen. Hendler says that this could be because sleep deprivation “universally impairs judgment,” but she states that the results suggest “that a lack of sleep makes neutral images suddenly provoke an emotional response.”

The fMRI scan demonstrated that sleep-deprived participants responded emotionally to every image, even the neutral ones. However, well-rested participants were only distracted by emotional images. The fMRI data showed activity in the amygdala, a brain region responsible for emotions, when well-rested participants saw emotional images and when sleep-deprived participants saw any of the images. The researchers also discovered that the anterior cingulate cortex, an area believed to regulate the amygdala, was active.

The findings suggest that a good night’s rest can help people stay calm and regulate their emotions.

This research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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