No matter where you are or what you do, escaping those one or two sleepless nights may seem inevitable! In fact, a latest study claims that 1 in 3 people in the United States suffers from sleep deprivation. Although you may not find it concerning, an extended period of sleep deprivation can have severely adverse consequences on your brain health and overall well-being.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have recently discovered that sleeping for less than 4.5 hours a night and more than 6.5 hours a night, accompanied by poor sleep quality, can gradually attribute to cognitive decline. However, cognitive decline is not the only major concern for a sleep-deprived individual.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can substantially intensify amygdala reactivity to negative emotional stimuli. Amygdala is a complex part of the limbic system that processes emotions such as fear and aggression. In addition, the amygdala plays a pivotal role in decision-making and reward processing.
Amplified activity in the Amygdala makes the sleep-deprived individuals feel negative emotions more strongly while also intensifying an individual’s reactions. Sleep-deprived individuals are more prone to irritability, emotional volatility, anxiety, aggression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide completion. Additionally, sleep deprivation can severely impair the activity of the salience-detection network (amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and anterior insula), resulting in the inability to accurately interpret visceral emotions and facial expressions on other people. For instance, even a simple harmless glance could be misperceived as a judgmental rejection. Disruption in the salience-detection network results in altered social behavior, mood disorders and can even reduce self-awareness.
Sleep deprivation also severely disrupts the dopaminergic system. Dopamine is associated with the reward center of the brain and just one night of sleeplessness can reduce the availability of D2 and D3 receptors with varying adverse consequences. Changes in dopamine receptors have been associated with impulsiveness and severe inability in decision-making.
Chronic sleep deprivation or insomnia is also responsible for depression. Several longitudinal studies have shown that chronic insomnia and alterations in sleep patterns increase the likelihood of depression.
Sleep deprivation can lead to the accumulation of adenosine; a neurotransmitter secreted by astrocytes, a type of glial cell in the brain. This increased build-up of adenosine in the cortex and basal forebrain can sometimes induce a transient mood-altering effect that lasts for up to 48 hours. Although adenosine is certainly necessary for the normal functions of the brain, overproduction and prolonged extracellular accumulation may result in chronic inflammation, fibrosis, and organ damage. This may not only lead to brain fog, but also may attribute to further worsening of adverse impulses and negative emotions. Chronic sleep deprivation thus intensifies negative feelings, induces mood disorders, and can result in reduced self-awareness.
Sleep deprivation can also make you overthink certain memory events of the past and can even alter your memory of negative experiences. The result is sometimes a modified and yet empathically fueled recount of a previous experience that your brain considers accurate. However, in reality, the situation may not even be as bad as you think! This could be a result of disruption in synaptic and memory consolidation attributed to impaired hippocampal cAMP and mTOR signaling. Nonetheless, if you are sleep-deprived, it is time to seek help!
If you or anyone you know may be suffering from sleep disorders or any other mental and physical health concerns, please contact The Functional Medicine Center for Personalized Care, LLC (www.FxMedCenters.com) at 201-880-8247 or Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678
- Krause AJ, Simon EB, Mander BA, et al. The sleep-deprived human brain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2017;18(7):404-418. doi:10.1038/nrn.2017.55
- Al-Abri MA. Sleep Deprivation and Depression: A bi-directional association. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2015;15(1):e4-e6
- Havekes R, Abel T. The tired hippocampus: the molecular impact of sleep deprivation on hippocampal function. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2017;44:13-19. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2017.02.005
- Borea PA, Gessi S, Merighi S, Vincenzi F, Varani K. Pathological overproduction: the bad side of adenosine. Br J Pharmacol. 2017;174(13):1945-1960. doi:10.1111/bph.13763
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