Years ago, a famous DJ in New York City, Peter Tripp, pledged he would remain awake for a full 200 hours and host his show. The year was 1959 and few had done sleep deprivation studies. What happened was unexpected and the event was a big deal for millions of Tripp’s listeners and the scientific community alike.
The result of Tripp’s “wakeathon” on his mental state was dramatic, far more than expected. He was usually an upbeat, cheerful person; but as hours passed, his personally began to seriously change. By only the third day of this experiment, he insulted close friends, cursed and was generally very irritable. By the very end of the wakeathon, he become very paranoid and even started hallucinating.
However, in spite of physicians monitoring his health–and in spite of stimulants prescribed to him–he kept going and went to sleep once 201 hours of a constant awake state.
Recent lab research has shown many of the same behaviors that Tripp exhibited because of sleep deprivation. Sleep loss or restricted hours of sleep for a long period of time usually results in worse moods, greater irritability and pronounced feelings of anxiety, anger and even depression. There are some who say that sleep deprivation also causes easier “triggering”, or heightened emotional reactions.
Emotional and Sleepy
Just like Peter Tripp was very sensitive and lashed out for minor infractions, participants of one sleep loss study showed greater angry reactions and more severe stress than those who were rest controlled and doing cognitive tests.
Brain imaging helps display just why sleep loss causes these irrational, poor emotional reactions. The amygdala is key. This part of the brain controls the emotions. Whenever those who haven’t slept were shown negative images, their brains showed up to 60% more activity in the amygdala than those who had enough rest.
Research personnel have also studied how areas of participants’ brains are connected. What they discovered was that for sleep loss patients, the loss of sleep ruined the link between their medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala. This is essential information, because the prefrontal cortex is what controls the function of the amygdala. Chronic sleep loss seems to make the amygdala much more likely to overreact to bad stimuli; it’s not connected any longer to the part of the brain that would calm that response.
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When study participants hadn’t slept for a single night, they began making less choices that were safe and minimized loss. They chose more often to attempt to maximizes their gains. Sleep loss made them gambles more optimistic, but it also made their choices more risky. This reckless behavior was mirrored by brain activity changes in the parts of the brain associated with positive and negative results.
Learning and Sleeping
The hippocampus is another part in the brain that is affected terribly by sleep loss and deprivation. The hippocampus, in the medial temporal lobe, is the brain location where everyone retains new memories. A single night of deprivation causes the ability to remember new things to drop precipitously, as noted in a study. When remembering some pictures, those who did not sleep had lower hippocampus activity compared to those who slept. Sleep deprivation caused a severe deficit that caused a problem in “writing” new information to that brain area.
Retaining Brain Power
What’s more, the hippocampus seems to require sleep to transport newly made information to other brain areas. Therefore, sleep deprivation could mean that the hippocampus’ capacity to be met sooner, and new details are unable to be stored properly.
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These tips and this information should help you sleep and feel better about yourself and your day.