Sleep deprivation makes you emotionally unstable!


Sleep is an essential activity every mammal needs to perform. It is the best way to regain what you lost during the day. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can have many effects. A person with a good circadian rhythm, i.e., good sleep-wake cycle tends to be active the next day– followed by a tiring day at work. Sleep is also the key to maintain relationships and emotional well-being.

The prefrontal cortex undergoes frontal cortical activity in the brain. High voltage and slow brain movements are the characteristic sign. In sleep, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is inactive. This inactivation helps us differentiate self-awareness in waking and diminution in dreams.

Due to the lack of a good night’s sleep, the individual becomes more susceptible. Prolonged effects of sleep deprivation induce the person into a state of emotional overdrive. He/she tends to be more impulsive and less thoughtful. It also increases anxiety.

Difference between anxiety and fear

There is a thin line of difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is our reaction to a particular stimulus and specific danger.

Anxiety is a future-oriented fear. It is often driven by the question- “What if?”. Anxiety is a hypothetical situation we fear.

The chronic condition of anxiety can make it difficult to differentiate reality and hallucination. Stress can bring about a change in our brain activity, affecting our daily chores. The hyperactive Amygdala is responsible for the situation. In the event of damage to Amygdala, the person loses the ability to recognize fear and anxiety.

Increased anxiety and stress are the effects of sleep deprivation

Emotional overdrive and depression are the primary effects of sleep deprivation. It can drive an individual into depression too. The reason for this condition is hyperactivity of the emotional brain, i.e., Amygdala in the events of less sleep. The medial prefrontal complex, i.e., Hippocampus and parahippocampus, are responsible for reducing anxiety and depression.

Due to a lack of sleep, the activity of medial prefrontal cortex and Amygdala reduces. As a result, the person eventually enters into a state of emotional overdrive.

The person worries about everything going on in their lives. Everything starts looking negative for them due to anxiety and sleeplessness. It can also increase the anticipatory action in an individual, which tends them to be more impulsive. A low ratio of positive to adverse effects is also a consequence.

Sleep can help reorganize connections in the brain, reducing anxiety in one. A professional clinical recommendation also suggests good quality night sleep. Thus, sleep is a natural anxiety inhibitor.

What is the reason for emotional overdrive due to sleep deprivation?

The frontal brain is the cognitive brain–the region of thought, reasoning, and decision-making. Amygdala is the emotional brain. The flight-or-fight is the quickest response of Amygdala to a threat. This automatic response is without any thought. Signals from Amygdala overpower the cognitive mind to consciousness– the cognitive mind usually determines a logical response to a situation. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is responsible for dampening the signals from Amygdala for controlled emotional processing.

Due to sleeplessness, the medial prefrontal cortex loses its inhibitory activity. Under such events of overdrive, the Amygdala hijacks one’s thoughts, overriding the rational response of the frontal lobe. As a result, Amygdala’s hyperactivity affects a person’s consciousness.

Also, in the events of stress and extreme anger or aggression, the Amygdala activates the flight-or-fight response, making one act illogical and irrational. Deep brain stimulation, drug, and behavioral therapies can help restore the function.

How sleeplessness affects emotional empathy?

The mirror neuron system comprises the inferior frontal gyrus and inferior parietal lobule. The system, along with Amygdala and insula, i.e., the evaluation center is responsible for emotional empathy in an individual. It is common that after a specific injury to the system, the individual tends to lose emotional processing.

Injury to the mirror neuron system results in a loss of the ability to understand the tone of the opposite person. They won’t be able to process tones or emotions naturally, eventually losing emotional empathy.

The tone or the emotions expressed to the affected individual won’t process naturally due to the injury, and the person loses emotional empathy. This situation usually ends up in divorce of the couple due to a lack of empathy. The reason is lesions in the inferior frontal gyrus.  

These lesions are also a consequence of sleep deprivation. It takes only one sleep-deprived individual in the couple to ruin the relationship due to a lack of empathy. In the events of less sleep, overactivation in the left inferior prefrontal gyrus is observed, which drives an individual into emotional overdrive. Anxiety and depression are common consequences.

Sleeplessness affects healthy sex life and relationships.

Sexual arousal is frequent in the early mornings rather than at night after a tiring day. Sleeplessness can result in low testosterone and induces infertility in men. It can also result in low testosterone (Female drive) in women and also reduces the desire. Along with an effect on sex life, it also ruins relationships due to lack of empathy (as mentioned above).

How does sleep help to overcome depression and anxiety?

Charged memories– sad or happy– are usually processed in sleep.

If a person with sad memories spends most of the time in REM sleep, it eases the emotional sting on the individual. They can experience reduced stress after a good night’s sleep. In the REM stage, the Amygdala is less charged and more neutral. As a result, the emotional sense undergoes a reset process driving them to be happier than the previous day.

Other adverse effects of sleep deprivation

  • Increased weight: Sleeplessness causes changes to hormones that regulate appetite. It reduces the hormone leptin and ghrelin. The former is responsible for suppressing appetite. It also encourages the body to expend energy. Ghrelin triggers the feeling of hunger. Hence, the lack of sleep increases the chances of eating most of the calories at night. This routine can increase weight. Lack of sleep also influences one to eat high-calorie food and junk. More sleep can reduce sugar craving leading to controlled weight. Good rest also promotes proper insulin function.
  • Makes you look older:  During sleep, the production of human growth hormone increases. More collagen increases the elasticity and firmness of the skin. On the other hand, lack of sleep interferes with collagen production. The wrinkles become more distinct, gradually making you look older. It also weakens muscle integrity and decreases bone density and health. This interference is why sleep-deprived individuals have a dull look comparatively. 
  • Reduced immunity: During the slow-wave sleep, the body’s immune system enters high gear. It releases most of its soldiers and repairs damaged cells at night. Sleep can improve one’s immunity to infections.

The consequences also include cognitive defects like poor focus, low concentration, memory impairments, fatigue, weakened immune system, high BP, and heart complications.

Related: How to fix the sleep schedule? What is the best time to sleep?

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