Sleep Deprivation Amps Up the Brain
July 3, 2012 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Sleep deprivation making you feel jumpy? It's not in your head. Human cortical excitability increases with time awake. [Abstract and link to full paper.]
posted by Anonymous (12 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

Cortical excitability isn't in my head?

Sorry, stoneweaver, I haven't been sleeping well lately ;)
posted by Segundus at 7:18 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm pretty sure my brain is in my head. Speaking just for myself.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:29 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sleep deprivation makes me hungry.
posted by annathea at 7:30 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, the excitability increases with every hour past bed time. It begins with slightly increased hearing, a keener, clearer grasp of the world around you. The rain on the window panes isn't a dull susurus promising sleep anymore, it's a pitter patter of individual drops, almost code like.

Later, even though it's dark, having been awake longer, other senses begin to kick in, noticeably sight and smell. Sure, you're just being excitable, surely you just need some sleep. Of course not, don't be silly. There's no way those were eyes looking at you from the closet. Surely you remembered to close it more firmly this time. And besides, it's so dark in the room, there's no way you could make out the outline of that smile. Not unless you've been up too long.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:31 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

As the father of two young children and a dude with sleep apnea, I say NO SHIT, SCIENCE. I'VE NOTICED.

(Though I'll also say thank you for proving it. You gotta prove the obvious before you can explore the outer reaches of weird, get the ground under your feet. Thanks, science. Have a cookie, on me.)
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:34 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find I am more likely to make puns when I am sleep-deprived. Is that phenomenon supported by this research?
posted by grouse at 7:42 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

This was the part I found most interesting (and personally relevant) when I read about this study the other day:
But it also helps to explain some unusual medical observations: ...severely depressed patients with abnormally low brain activity sometimes improve after skipping sleep. “You keep them awake for one night, and, incredibly, they get better,” Massimini says.
Here is more about this phenomenon from the NYT: In Sleepless Nights, a Hope for Treating Depression
Sleep deprivation used as a treatment for depression is efficacious and robust: it works quickly, is relatively easy to administer, inexpensive, relatively safe and it also alleviates other types of clinical depression. Sleep deprivation can elevate your mood even if you are not depressed, and can induce euphoria. This throws a new light on insomnia.

This remarkable result is not well known outside a small circle of sleep researchers for three good reasons. First, sleep deprivation is not as convenient as taking a pill. Second, prolonged sleep deprivation is not exactly a desirable state; it leads to cognitive defects, such as reduced working memory and impaired decision making. Finally, depression recurs after the mother, inevitably, succumbs to sleep, even for a short nap. Nonetheless this is an incredibly important observation; it shows that depression can be rapidly reversed and suggests that something is happening in the sleeping brain to bring on episodes of depression. All this offers hope that studying sleep deprivation may lead to new, unique and rapid treatments for depression.
I have noticed that, on the nights I have been awake quietly reading until the dawn (this is, of course, not the same as being jerked awake in the middle of the night, once or multiple times, out of some precious sleep by a crying or restless baby), I do feel more fresh, calm, and in a more steady mood than I might usually be - ready to face whatever the world can throw at me that day with a relative amount of equanimity. So - I'll want to remember to try this if I think I need it in the future. I tend to think if I'm in a depression rut, it's better to get more sleep and "take it easy on myself" to try to kick the low mood, not to deliberately deprive myself of sleep. But as I turn over the idea in my head, sometimes getting too much sleep can make the depression worse; rather than staying up and feeling motivated to get stuff done around the house as the sun rises, which can be my favorite part of the day (even as I am definitely not a morning person, at all).
posted by flex at 8:20 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ask anyone who had to watch a newborn for a week. I do NOT miss the three days of no sleep, eat, or drink.
posted by stormpooper at 8:44 AM on July 3, 2012

Flex- the flip side of that effect is for people on the bipolar spectrum sleep deprivation can trigger mania. A temporary relief from depression, sure, although the long-term result is more depression later in the now-activated cycle.

It's definitely not always clear when depression is unipolar or bipolar - I'd hope that anyone who tried sleep deprivation as a treatment tool had a really good handle on that. Although from the description it seems like the treatment result basically is a (hypo?)manic state - you feel good (but eventually cognitively impaired!) until you sleep again.
posted by newg at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2012

Is this really a new discovery? I remember a neuroanatomy professor in college telling the class about how sleep regulates the levels of noradrenaline in the brain and that's why you get twitchy after a night without sleep. That was in 1992.
posted by falameufilho at 11:00 AM on July 3, 2012

The present results provide noninvasive electrophysiological evidence that wakefulness is associated with a steady increase in the excitability of human cortical circuits that is rebalanced during sleep.

So excited to face another day with no sleep!!!
posted by oink at 12:18 PM on July 3, 2012

I've noticed that my sense of smell gets much stronger when I'm short of sleep. I have a very, very poor sense of smell usually, I literally don't notice things like the stink from a sink full of dirty dishes. But when I'm short of sleep, I'll step outside and be aware of the smell of flowers, a hint of skunk on the wind, the aroma of a freshly cut lawn, etc.

The lack of sleep also hits me much, much harder than it used to. I'm not sure if it's getting older, or a side effect of some medication I take for my heart (which can occasionally make me so sleepy that I can literally fall asleep just about anywhere.) But I used to be able to function on three or four hours of sleep, and these days if I get anything short of eight hours, it hurts, all damn day long.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:02 PM on July 3, 2012

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