How Sleep Loss Causes Depression, Anxiety | Independent Newspapers Limited
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How Sleep Loss Causes Depression, Anxiety

Posted: Apr 6, 2016 at 9:30 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)


Chinese scientists have used brain scans to find out why chronic lack of sleep makes people so emotionally distressed. It turns out it literally rewires the part of the brain connected to emotion, destroying important sections of white brain matter.

Anyone who works a demanding job or has kids knows that multiple nights with little or no sleep can leave you feeling like a zombie — detached, anxious and irritable. But consider the plight of insomniacs, who struggle to function under the crushing weight of a clinical inability to sleep. Now, scientists from Guangdong No.2 Provincial People’s Hospital in China have discovered why missing out on sleep makes us feel so terrible — it literally rewires the brain.

The scientists used brain scanning technology to examine the brains of 23 people severe insomnia, who each reported having trouble sleeping for at least a month at a time. When they compared them to the brain scans of 30 healthy people, they found significant and obvious differences in the so-called “white matter” of the brain. While the insomniacs presented white matter degradation all over, the biggest changes were in the right side of the brain, which regulates emotion.

The scans measured the strength of electrical pulses throughout the brain, and they found that the culprit was the corpus callosum, the part that connects the two halves of the brain. It wasn’t functioning properly, leading to the weakened responses in the right half. Making things worse, they also found damage in the thalamus, which is (among other things) responsible for regulating sleep and consciousness — by being unable to sleep, your body inadvertently makes it even harder to find relief.

The researchers didn’t offer up any solutions to the problem, but it may offer a modicum of comfort to people who struggle to function when they lose sleep. It’s not an issue of temperament or willpower — your brain may literally be broken.