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How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect the Mind?

Insomnia is a symptom of many mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder (SUD). Unfortunately, lack of sleep severely harms cognitive functions. This article will discuss emotional dysregulation, memory issues, and an inability to focus.

Emotional Dysregulation

When people go without sleep, they can’t control their emotions. The brain fails to send signals across regions. Similarly, the path between the logic facilities and the amygdala weakens. Additionally, the limbic system can’t balance well. All of these systemic failures create external problems.

The system impairment appears in the strong negative affect and weak positive affect that the person exhibits. An individual may go through mood swings. They might display heightened reactions. Often, they will burst into spontaneous crying. Contrastingly, they won’t recognize the positives easily. They may overlook happy moments. Their feelings of joy and excitement could evaporate in seconds. The person could find themselves falling deeper into their symptoms of mood disorders, thereby exacerbating sleep problems. This whole situation creates a vicious cycle.

Memory Issues

During sleep, the brain forms neural pathways to process and store perception input. Specifically, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (n-REM) sleep both help consolidate memories. Dr. Matthew Walker states in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream, “The slow brainwaves of deep [n-REM] sleep serves as a courier service, transporting memory packets from a temporary storage hold (hippocampus) to a more secure, permanent home (the cortex).” N-REM sleep focuses on facts. REM sleep helps store memory that doesn’t require conscious thought.

When a person gets too little sleep, their memory worsens. They don’t store as many facts from the previous day. Their brain simply doesn’t have the time or resources to process new senses or perceptions. Moreover, memory fails without sleep due to the issue we’ll discuss in the next section.

Inability to Focus

A person who goes without sleep will lose their ability to focus. When the neurons can’t rest, they become too exhausted to function optimally. Unfortunately, this creates neural exhaustion. The person’s response time slows. They begin performing similarly to someone drunk.

In addition to neuronal exhaustion, the lack of brain “clean up” during sleep makes focus more difficult. According to a 2018 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the brain’s levels of beta-amyloid proteins significantly increase after just one night without sleep. These proteins harm cognitive functions like focus and motivation.

When people don’t get enough sleep, they can develop emotional dysregulation, memory issues, and an inability to focus. Insomnia can form as a symptom of many mental health disorders. At The Guest House, we can evaluate your mental status and offer you immediate help for any possible diagnoses. Our inpatient program offers comprehensive treatment at our 52-acre facility in Silver Springs, Florida. We provide traditional therapeutic modalities as well as holistic therapies. When you’re ready to heal, contact The Guest House at (855) 483-7800.