Recent research has provided more evidence that of how our environment affects how we sleep and how that sleep deprivation can affect us. Stress, newborns and even the moon may have an effect on our slumber. In addition, research has also found that psychedelic drugs put our brain in a dream-like state and may be able alleviate symptoms of depression.
Interrupted sleep just as bad as no sleep
Being awoken several times in the middle of the night can be just as physically detrimental as getting no sleep at all, according to new research published in the journal Sleep Medicine. Researchers found that interrupted sleep—such as when parents hear a baby crying-- is equivalent to getting no more than four consecutive hours of sleep and can lead to compromised cognitive abilities, shortened attention span and negative mood.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences conducted their study on student volunteers. They wore wristwatch-like devices to track when they were asleep and awake. The students first slept an eight-hour night, then experienced a night where they were awakened four times by phone calls and told to complete a short computer task before going back to sleep. They were awake for about 10 to 15 minutes each time. The next morning, the students completed computer tasks to assess alertness and attention and filled out a mood questionnaire. Results showed a direct link between compromised attention, negative mood and disrupted sleep after only one night of interruptions.
Researchers say that many people, including new parents, have to deal with frequent night awakenings for months on end and their study shows these people can pay a very high price physically and emotionally.
People sleep less during a full moon
Though the results of several studies looking at how the full moon affects sleep are contradictory, a team of international researchers from Sahlgrenska Academy have found similar results to a Swiss study that concluded that people sleep 20 minutes less when the moon is full.
Researchers analyzed data from a previous sleep study and compared them with the lunar cycle. The study, published in Current Biology, looked at 47 healthy 18 to 30-year-olds and found that subjects slept an average of 20 minutes less and had more trouble falling asleep during the full moon. But the subjects also had more REM sleep during the new moon.
The researchers suggest that the brain may be more susceptible to external disturbances when the moon is full. In addition, they say that there may be a built-in biological clock that is affected by the moon, and may be similar to the one that regulates circadian rhythm.
Reaction to stress can cause insomnia
How we cope with stress can help cause insomnia, according to a study published in the journal Sleep. Researchers found that coping with stress through behavioral disengagement, such as using alcohol or drugs, was linked to insomnia, as well as attempts at self-distraction, such as watching TV or going to the movies. But, the most significant link to insomnia cognitive intrusion – recurring thoughts about what is stressing us.
Researchers at the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit looked at a community-based sample of 2,892 good sleepers with no history of insomnia. Participants reported the number of stressful life events they had experienced in the past year, such as divorce, serious illness, financial problems, or death of a spouse. Questionnaires measured the severity and duration of each stressful event and the levels of cognitive intrusion and coping mechanisms they used during the week following the event. A follow-up assessment was done one year later to identify participants who had developed insomnia.
Researchers say that mindfulness-based therapies show considerable promise in keeping cognitive intrusion at bay and improving sleep.
Psychedelic drugs may ease depression
The rigidly pessimistic pattern of thinking in many people with depression may be alleviated by psychedelic drugs, such as magic mushrooms and LSD, according to research published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. Depression is a common cause of insomnia and insomnia can lead to depression, making it a vicious circle. Psychedelic drugs may trigger similar brain activity to what occurs during dreaming, according to the study.
Researchers wanted to see how psychedelic drugs distort a person’s sense of reality, often described as “mind expansion.” They began by conducting a new analysis on a previously published study. The older study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brain activity of 15 volunteers that were given psilocybin – a psychedelic chemical found in magic mushrooms, as well as when they were given placebo. They looked specifically at the changes in blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal, which indicates a change in brain activity.
By applying a mathematical model to the results, called entropy, researchers were able to measure the variability of brain activity in certain areas to better understand how the chemical triggers mind expansion. Results showed that the psilocybin created greater activity in the brain network associated with emotional thinking. They also found that certain areas of this network were active at the same time, which typically only happens in the brains of people who are dreaming.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2014, July 10). "The high price paid by parents of newborns for their interrupted sleep." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/279369.php.
University of Gothenburg. (2014, July 10). "Sleep affected by the full moon - contradictory findings." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014, July 7). "Your reaction to stress may increase your risk for insomnia." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Whiteman, H. (2014, July 4). "The science behind the 'dream-like states' of psychedelic drugs." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Published On: July 15, 2015