Can’t sleep – your lizard brain will be angry
This is the first in a series of posts that examine the correlation between poor sleep and emotional/psychological issues, from depression to anxiety to general grumpiness and irritability. Poor sleep can be contributing factors to these conditions, but also result from it. Consult with your doctor if you have the blues, and we’re sure better sleep will be an important part of the treatment.
You pulled an all nighter. Your little bundle of joy was a wailing terror until 4 am. The guy next door was listening to this, on repeat, until the sun came up. Or maybe you just didn’t sleep well last night. And now? You’re grumpy, irritable and likely a bit quick to anger.
We all know it happens, but why does it happen? Some research suggests that you can blame a little part of your brain that’s been around since we crawled out of primordial ooze – the amygdala. The amygdala has been linked to emotions of fear – that isn’t really true. In reality, other parts of the brain tell the amygdala that something scary is happening (the emotion comes from elsewhere) and the amygdala jumps into action, determining what to do (go into attack mode? Run like a squirrel for the nearest tree? Or freeze like a possum and hope the badness goes away…). The research has found that a lack of good sleep increases amygdala activity, and reduces the brains ability to regulate it. So it’s this little nugget of neurons that makes you snap at a coworker, or exist in a perpetual state of “grrrr” – everything seems a bit more like a potential threat.
It goes even further. One 2005 study found that people who don’t experience better sleep also didn’t experience the same positive reactions that well rested people do after achievements; “I won the Nobel prize? Meh”.
And it’s here that we can see the full impact of poor sleep on general mood – it isn’t just that you’re grumpy. It’s that your entire perception and emotional reaction are altered, leaning significantly more negative. Your typical rose coloured glasses become pink, at best.
The obvious answer here is to get better sleep – 8 lovely hours of restfulness. However we know that external factors (sirens, roosters, snoring partners) can impact this, and may be out of your control. So if you get a poor night’s rest, try to be aware of it and be smart about your activities the next day – maybe don’t talk to the boss about that promotion, that sort of thing.
Next up in this series? Depression, and its inextricable link to sleep.