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You Become Less Positive When You Lack Sleep

S u m m a r y :
Lack of sleep decreases the ability to be positive, and might lead to depression, suggests a new study published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.

Sleep Deprivation & Mental Health Issues

Human life is imperfect: we can remain awake for only so long until we are overcome by drowsiness, and the sister of death, sleep. On the other hand, we absolutely need sleep for us to function; sleep deprivation is harmful to our health, both physical and mental. The new study focuses on the latter aspect. Conducted by a team of researchers from University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, it aims at understanding how lack of sleep can affect one’s ability to be positive.

Lose Sleep, Lose Positivity

Study lead author, Ivan Vargas, explains that we are normally more inclined to noticing positive environmental stimuli as opposed to negative ones. However, with sleep deprivation, things are reversed.

Vargas and his colleagues reached this conclusion after they studied the response of a group of 40 healthy adults; the latter were divided into two groups: one was kept awake for 28 consecutive hours while the other had 8 hours of sleep. Thereafter, all participants were to perform a computer test whereby they identified the mood of faces (happy, sad, or neutral). Their accuracy and response time were measured to evaluate whether they focused on positive or negative information.

The results show that those who were acutely sleep-deprived had a lower likelihood to focus on happy faces. However, they also did not necessarily concentrate to a greater extent on the negative—they were just less likely to notice the positive.

Decreased Positivity Linked With Depression

The inability to be positive-minded is said to be linked with conditions like depression. According to Vargas, depression itself comes with the propensity of having thoughts and feelings that are more negative. Furthermore, being depressed is also associated with feeling less positive, with a decreased ability to feel happiness. The new findings show that lack of sleep brings about a similar state of being: sleep deprivation lowers one’s ability to focus on the positive, which might eventually lead to an increased risk of developing depression.

Insomniacs Are Less Vulnerable

Another interesting finding is that participants with a history of insomnia did not experience the effects of sleep deprivation to the same degree as the other participants; rather, they were less sensitive to them. The authors explain this as them having had more experience with lack of sleep such that they came up with coping mechanisms to lessen the adverse influence of sleep deprivation.


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