Sleep Deprivation Makes Your Emotions Go Haywire

· February 9, 2017

It seems unbelievable, but sleep has become a luxury that not everyone seems to enjoy. Emotional difficulty is usually first reflected in sleep. Likewise, sleep deprivation results in various risks and aggravates all kinds of problems.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a normal adult should sleep between 7 and 8 hours each night to obtain the optimal amount of rest, both physical and mental. And the effects of sleep deprivation can be very serious. Among them, the WHO alerts against one in particular: going just one night without sleeping can result in a loss of brain tissue.

“Happiness for me is enjoying good health, sleeping without fear, and waking up without anxiety.”

-Françoise Sagan-

When you don’t get enough sleep or don’t sleep deeply enough, your nerves are literally on edge. It’s common to be highly irritable or especially sensitive to any type of stimulus. This has been proven in many studies on the subject.

Sleep deprivation creates a hurricane of emotions

A recent study out of the University of Tel Aviv, which was later published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that people who don’t sleep enough perceive everyday life in a different way.

balloon head


The study used a group of 18 adults, who were given a test after a night of sleeping well, and then another one after a night of not sleeping. The test involved showing them a series of images, some that were “emotionally positive” (a teddy bear, for example), others that were emotionally negative (a mutilated body), and others that were neutral (a utensil, a chair, etc.).

All the participants were monitored with EEGs, which allowed their brain activity to be observed. They concluded that when they didn’t sleep, the participants’ brains were basically incapable of differentiating between the images emotionally. Their reactions towards the positive, negative, and neutral images were basically the same. According to the researchers, this all indicates a lack of emotional control.

Irrational, primitive behaviors

Another study from the University of California-Berkeley established that losing out on 2 or more hours of sleep severely affects the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotions. As a result, sleep deprivation leads to more irrational, primitive responses.

man jumping off rhino

Matthew Walker, the director of the study, pointed out that “sleep deprivation fractures the brain mechanisms that regulate key aspects of our mental health.” He added that sleep restores our emotional circuits and allows us to face everyday challenges better.

Walker also said that while most people believe sleep deprivation leads to dullness and passivity, it’s actually quite the opposite. People who don’t sleep enough don’t become more passive, but rather 60% become more reactive, or in other words, more violent and out of control.

The price of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation also leads to other problems. Your emotional balance is compromised and your ability to react to stimuli is diminished. This means that, when you don’t sleep well, you have a higher risk of suffering from accidents. It’s estimated that driving while sleep-deprived is equivalent to drunk driving.

In addition, thought patterns are also altered by lack of sleep. It becomes much more difficult to process information and make decisions. One study indicated that medical errors skyrocket by 400% in health professionals who work 24-hour shifts. Also, it’s been concluded that people who sleep less than necessary can develop memory problems.

bird nest on head

The brain isn’t the only thing that’s seriously affected by sleep deprivation. It also increases the probability of developing illnesses. For example, the immune system is affected by sleep deprivation. There’s also data that indicates that sleep deprivation influences the development of diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Having said all that, it’s worth evaluating whether you’re getting adequate sleep. Sleep is a valuable good that everyone should care for and preserve. Without a doubt, it is one of the great pillars of mental health.

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Images courtesy of Alex Stoddart, Miruna Ivanescu, Enzzo Barrena