New research shows that sleep loss markedly exaggerates the degree to which we anticipate impending emotional events, particularly among highly anxious people, who are especially vulnerable.

Two common features of anxiety disorders are sleep loss and an amplification of emotional response. Results from the new study suggest that these features may not be independent of one another but may interact instead.

Researchers from the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, used brain scanning on 18 healthy adults in two separate sessions, one after a normal night’s sleep and a second after a night of sleep deprivation.

During both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that involved a period of anticipating a potentially negative experience (an unpleasant visual image) or a potentially benign experience (a neutral visual image), according to a press release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The fMRI scans showed that sleep deprivation significantly amplified the build-up of anticipatory activity in deep emotional brain centers, especially the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with responding to negative and unpleasant experiences. In some of these emotional centers of the brain, sleep deprivation detrimentally triggered an increase in anticipatory reaction by more than 60 percent.

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