Lack of Sleep Skews Your Sense of What's Important
Add another downside to not getting enough sleep–it can make you lose your sense of what’s really important.
According to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleep deprivation can affect our ability to regulate emotions and allocate brain resources for cognitive processing.
For the study at Tel Aviv University in Israel, 18 adults were given two rounds of tests while undergoing brain scans. The first test was taken after a good night’s sleep and the second after spending a night awake in the lab.
Participants had to describe the direction in which small yellow dots moved over distracting images. These images were “positively emotional” (a cat), “negatively emotional” (a mutilated body) or “neutral” (a spoon).
Rested participants identified the direction of the dots hovering over the neutral images fast and accurately, and their scans reflected different neurological responses to the neutral images and the emotional ones.
But after they were awake all night, the same people performed badly in both the neutral and the emotional image tests, and their electrical brain responses did not reflect a highly different response to the emotional images.
Lack of sleep, according to the researchers, appeared to compromise the brain’s ability to decide what is important. Suddenly, everything appears to be important, so there is a loss of a person’s sense of proportion.
According to study leader Talma Hendler, “These results reveal that, without sleep, the mere recognition of what is an emotional and what is a neutral event is disrupted. We may experience similar emotional provocations from all incoming events, even neutral ones, and lose our ability to sort out more or less important information.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described insufficient sleep a “public health problem” and estimates that 30 percent of Americans get less than six hours of sleep a night.