Getting enough sleep can be difficult for some of us. An estimated 33 percent of Americans are not getting the amount of sleep they need. This is not only making us tired: according to a new study, it is also taking a toll on our physical health, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even mental health conditions.
Those who are sleep deprived lose some of their ability to be positive minded, says study lead Feellolvan Vargus, a postdoctoral Ph.D. This may not sound serious, but medical experts such as himself are aware how serious symptoms of depression could be dangerous if left unaddressed.
Major depression risk
It is estimated that about 16.1 million adults have experienced a major depressive episode as of 2014.
Major depression is often characterized as feelings of profound sadness to the point where previously enjoyed activities no longer bring joy to the affected. Poor sleep is often associated with major depression. It can affect a person’s physical health as well as their mental health, putting their overall well-being at risk.
“In general, we have a tendency to notice positive stimuli in our environment. We tend to focus on positive things more than anything else, but now we’re seeing that sleep deprivation may reverse that bias,” said Vargas.
A lack of positivity
The study in question looked at 40 healthy adults. Participants were randomized to either stay awake for 28 consecutive hours or have a full eight hours of sleep. All subjects used a computer test to measure their accuracy and response time at identifying happy, sad, and neutral faces. This was done to assess how well they paid attention to positive or negative information.
The researchers found that those who were sleep deprived were less likely to focus on happy faces. This study may have implications for those experiencing serious depression or anxiety.
“Depression is typically characterized as the tendency to think and feel more negatively or sad, but more than that, depression is associated with feeling less positive, less able to feel happy. Similarly, if you don’t get enough sleep, it reduces your ability to attend to positive things, which over time may confer risk for depression,” Vargas says.
An interesting development in the study involved the participants with a history of insomnia. They were less sensitive to the effect of sleep loss. The researchers believe that these individuals may have developed a coping mechanism, as they are more experienced at being in a sleep-deprived state.
The researchers hope that cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia may help achieve depression remission.
Related: Poor sleep associated with Alzheimer’s disease: Study