Getting an all-nighter once in a while might not be so bad for you, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that a night of total sleep deprivation improved certain brain pathways that were correlated with better mood in some healthy and depressed people.
For most people, a lack of sleep makes us grumpy and unable to function properly the next day. However, for many patients with depressive disorder, sleep deprivation induces a rapid and effective improvement in mood.
The amygdala is a central region of the brain affected by depression. This study showed that not sleeping for one night improved connectivity from the amygdala to the anterior cingulate cortex, leading to improved mood in some people.
The research team mapped the activity of the brain region to see why some people get a healthy boost from what is considered negative for most.
“Our findings could have implications for the development of rapid and unique antidepressant interventions,” said the researchers who worked on the study.
In a sleep deprivation experiment conducted on 38 healthy people and 30 patients with major depressive disorder, as well as 16 people who were allowed uninterrupted sleep, researchers explored the effects of total sleep deprivation (TSD) on mood and functional connectivity networks.
The experiments were carried out for five consecutive days and the participants underwent three MRI sessions.
Participants underwent three resting-state fMRIs over the five days. The first was after a normal night’s sleep on the morning of the second day as a baseline. In the totally sleep-deprived groups, participants had their second brain scan on the morning of the third day after falling asleep.
Afterwards, participants were given two nights of restorative sleep and had their final brain scan on the morning of day five. All participants completed a standard psychological test assessing mood swings every two hours for days two through five.
As expected, most participants showed deterioration in mood immediately after missing a night’s sleep. Thirteen of the 30 depressed participants (43%) experienced an improvement in their mood, and the remaining 17 participants saw their mood worsen or have no change after a night of sleep deprivation.
After a restful night’s sleep, 20 participants with major depressive disorder experienced an improvement in their mood, and the remaining participants experienced worsening or no change in their mood.
The amygdala is the part of the brain with the core of the fight or flight response, processing frightening or threatening stimuli and signaling other parts of the brain for response action.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) region of the brain is involved in both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex. Among other things, it plays an important role in the ability to control and manage emotional states or influence regulation.
The results suggest that amygdala-ACC network connectivity may reflect resilience to mood disturbances after sleep loss and may therefore be a potential target for antidepressant interventions.
According to the researchers, one potential explanation for individual differences in the effects of sleep deprivation could be the duration of REM sleep.
Major depression has previously been associated with REM sleep abnormalities. Lack of REM sleep with sleep deprivation is believed to give some participants a break to improve amygdala control, resulting in an antidepressant effect.
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