A recent study has found that not getting enough sleep does not only affect a person’s physical health, but also his/her mental health, and that in significant ways. According to lead author of the study, Ivan Vargas, PhD, as humans, we have the tendency to observe positive stimuli in our environment, in other words, we tend to focus on positive things more than negative things but when sleep deprivation sets in, there is a deviation from this natural tendency.
Findings of the study show that people who do not get enough sleep lose some of their ability to be positive-minded and according to experts, this has serious implications because the inability to think positively is a symptom of depression and one that is dangerous if left untreated.
The study involved 40 healthy adults who participated in a computer test measuring their accuracy and response time at identifying happy, sad and neutral faces to assess how they pay attention to positive or negative information.
Vargas and his team randomized the participants to either 28 consecutive hours awake, or a full eight hours of sleep. The research team found that participants who were acutely sleep deprived were less likely to focus on the happy faces. These participants didn’t necessarily focus more on the negative, but were less likely to focus on the positive.
According to Vargas, one of the characteristics of depression is feeling less positive and being less able to feel happy. In the same way, not getting enough sleep reduces a person’s ability to focus on positive things and this, he states, may overtime, make the person more likely to be depressed.
In addition, the study found that participants with a history of insomnia were less sensitive to the effects of the sleep loss. It is believed that this might be due to the fact that persons with insomnia have more experience being in sleep-deprived conditions and have therefore been able to develop coping methods to help reduce the effects of sleep loss.