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Feeling emotionally overwhelmed during times of stress and can’t figure out why? Your current sleeping habits might offer some helpful insight.
According to findings in Sleep and Affect: Assessment, Theory and Clinical Implications, a new book from University of Arkansas psychology professor Matthew Feldner and National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder health science specialist Kimberly Babson, we are more likely to react emotionally to stressful situations when we are sleep deprived.
Previous research has linked sleep loss with anxiety and mood disorders, so this additional study corroborated those results as well as expanded symptom observation beyond anxiety and depression specifically.
“Current thinking suggests the impact of sleep loss on emotion is likely very complex,” Feldner told The Huffington Post. “One leading idea is that losing sleep impairs functioning of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. This region of the brain is involved in complex behavior and thinking, including regulating emotional experience. Therefore, it is likely that impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in elevated emotionally observed among sleep-deprived people, because our nervous system is less able to reduce emotion once it has been triggered.”
This research gives us new insight into how sleep disorders can actually serve as accurate predictors of anxiety and mood disorders as well. According to Feldner, people who experience sleep deprivation regularly also experience relatively high levels of emotion on a daily basis. And as this becomes a chronic condition, it’s possible that they will experience long-term changes in biological function.
“Another implication of this work is that protecting our own sleep and the sleep of our children is extremely important,” said Feldner. “In addition to the well-known, short-term impacts of sleep loss like moodiness or difficulty concentrating, there appear to be long-term problems in emotional functioning. Protecting sleep is critical for psychological health throughout our lives.”
If you feel emotional beyond control during the day — and super sensitive to common stressors — consider the amount of sleep you’re logging each night. Setting aside ample time for your body to rest will prevent short and long-term problems that can adversely affect other aspects of your life. And monitoring sleep habits could possibly help unearth a previously undiagnosed anxiety or mood disorder that may be worth medical attention.