Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Feeling sad or worried? The way you snooze might be behind it

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Not catching sufficient Zs or having a rough time sleeping can really mess with your feelings and mind, says a recent study looking at five decades of research.

“We found that not getting enough sleep in different ways – whether it’s staying up all night, not sleeping enough, or having a choppy sleep pattern – can mess with how you feel. The biggest thing we noticed was that lack of sleep makes you less happy,” explained Cara Palmer, who is helping lead the study and works at Montana State University in Bozeman.

“We also noticed that not getting enough sleep makes people more anxious,” Palmer mentioned in an email. “When something emotional happens, people who didn’t sleep enough tend to react differently compared to those who had a good night’s sleep.

“Specifically, they said they felt less intense emotions in their body, which is when you really feel strong emotions. This suggests that, overall, people don’t react as strongly to emotions when they haven’t slept enough.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that adults who are 18 and older should get at least seven hours of good sleep each night to stay healthy. If they don’t, it can cause some serious problems: Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a higher chance of getting obese, having heart problems, and even getting dementia, along with mood issues.

Despite the dangers, over 30% of adults don’t get enough sleep each day – that means they sleep less than their body really needs. Almost 1 in 10 adults are short of two or more hours of sleep every night, according to a study from 2022.

“Almost everywhere in the world, people don’t get the right amount of sleep for at least 5 nights every week,” mentioned Jo Bower, a researcher at the University of East Anglia in England, in an email. “Our research shows how this can affect our emotions, especially when mental health issues are increasing rapidly.”

Different ways of not getting enough sleep
Published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychological Bulletin on Thursday, the study looked at data from 154 studies involving more than 5,000 people over five decades.

In these studies, researchers disturbed the sleep of participants for one or more nights by either keeping them awake (sleep deprivation), waking them up from time to time (sleep fragmentation), or making them get up earlier than usual (partial sleep loss). Afterward, participants were tested for feelings of anxiety, depression, mood, and how they reacted to emotional triggers.

“According to Palmer, not getting enough sleep overall has a bigger impact on how we feel than just not sleeping well or losing a bit of sleep here and there. What’s interesting is that even short periods of sleep loss, like staying up an hour or two later than usual or losing just a few hours of sleep, can affect our positive mood.

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist and pulmonologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who was not part of the study, highlighted the strong connection between mental health and sleep in the extensive analysis. He suggested that sayings like ‘woke up on the wrong side of the bed’ might have some truth to them. The research included in the analysis found that people who had poor sleep, both in terms of quantity and quality, reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. However, when these individuals returned to a regular sleep pattern, they experienced a significant improvement in their mood.”

What’s happening when we don’t get enough sleep? Well, the reasons can be found in our brains, says Palmer.

Research shows that when we don’t get enough sleep, it affects the parts of our brain responsible for feeling rewarded and having positive experiences. It also makes the emotional areas of our brain more reactive.

In a study, a tired woman working on her laptop at home was shown to have signs of fatigue and headaches, along with a sleepy and tired look. Different types of sleep problems can affect our mood, but losing Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep seems to make reactions to emotional experiences more negative compared to losing deep sleep.

During deep sleep, our body clears out potentially harmful substances from the brain, including a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. REM sleep, on the other hand, is when we dream and our brain processes information and experiences.

Both types of sleep are important in their own ways. For instance, REM sleep is connected to emotional memories, influencing mood through cognitive processes. Deep sleep, on the other hand, is linked to the brain’s reward centers, affecting responses to positive emotional situations.

Quality sleep is crucial, and deep sleep is a good indicator of that. Most adults need seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for it to be restorative, according to the CDC.

Lack of sleep not only affects our mood but also worsens symptoms of anxiety and depression, even in those without known mental or physical health issues.

According to Palmer, longer wakefulness periods result in more severe depressive or anxiety symptoms. Sleep loss can impact people who are already depressed differently, and those who are anxious may experience more intense reactions to lack of sleep.

Sleep problems might also be an early sign of a developing mental disorder, warns Dasgupta.

Certain sleep disorders, like obstructive sleep apnea, can also disrupt sleep and are more common in people with psychiatric conditions. Addressing such sleep issues is crucial.

While more research is needed on the effects of poor sleep on individuals with existing mental disorders, teens, and children, it’s important for everyone to prioritize good sleep. Bower emphasizes that allowing time for sleep is a form of self-care, akin to eating well and exercising. Systemic changes, such as adjusting school start times and working hours, are also needed to support good-quality sleep.


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