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Lack of Sleep Can Tremendously Affect How Our Brains Deal with Emotions

Lack of Sleep Can Tremendously Affect How Our Brains Deal with Emotions

Insomnia is a common but highly irritating problem: the Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) estimates that 1 in 3 people will suffer from mild insomnia at one point in their lives. There are a number of causes for this disorder, including hormonal imbalances, bad sleep habits, some medications, too much caffeine and even pregnancy. And whatever the underlying cause, sleepless nights can cause a range of problems, including fatigue and tiredness, difficulty concentrating and focusing, lack of memory, mood or emotional disorders, and the increased chance of committing an error or getting into an accident.

What is even more surprising is that, according to new research, a person’s emotions can be negatively impacted by even missing just one night’s sleep.

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Sleep deprivation led people to lose their neutrality, the ability of the brain to separate the important from the unimportant

This new research was coming out of Tel Aviv University in Israel, where researchers were able to gain a better understanding of the specific effects that sleep deprivation has upon the brain. What they found was that, surprisingly, the negative cognitive effects began after just one night’s sleep.

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Losing Neutrality

    During the study, 18 volunteers stayed up all night one night and got a good night’s sleep on the other. Brain imaging from MRIs and EEG were done throughout the study in order to better understand the brain activity of the participants. After each night, participants were asked to take the same test which involved tracking and identifying the movement of dots across different pictures, which were either emotionally positive, emotionally negative, or emotionally neutral in content. The combination of this test and the brain imaging was enough to get a good idea of the brain’s cognitive processing ability.

    The results showed that lack of sleep negatively impacted the regulatory processing ability of the brain, and the EEG scan revealed little difference in its reaction to positive and negative images. Further testing showed that volunteers were more easily distracted by any kind of image after staying up all night, but that after a good night’s sleep, only the most emotionally charged images registered on the brain.

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    In short, the researchers noted that sleep deprivation led people to lose their neutrality, the ability of the brain to separate the important from the unimportant. See the brain scans and other images taken directly from the study below.

    Losing Neutrality
      Figure 1
      Losing Neutrality
        Figure 2
        Losing Neutrality
          Figure 3

          Before the study, scientists were not certain about just what mechanism in the brain was responsible for emotional impairments which happen when sleep is taken away. Dr. Talma Hadlar, one of the researchers who published this article, noted that:

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          “We assumed that sleep loss would interfere with the processing of emotional images and….executive functions. We were incredibly surprised to find that it significantly impacted the brain in the processing of both neutral and emotionally charged images.”

          The Study in Context

          The Tel Aviv research is part of a recent and growing body of evidence that ties lack of sleep or insomnia to emotional and/or cognitive dysfunction. All three studies below were published just this year:

          • One study, published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, found in their review that insomnia “poses a major threat to mental health…. Anxiety and depression are the two most negative emotions impacted by insomnia”.
          • An article which appeared in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that, for patients suffering from insomnia due to tinnitus (a chronic ringing in the ears), the level of emotional and cognitive distress was directly related to how severe the insomnia was.
          • Research published in the Review of Neurology found that the comorbidity between insomnia and depression is high, and that a vicious cycle begins:

          Anxiety and depression can cause insomnia and the insomnia in turn can make the emotional problems worse.

          In short, those who are suffering from insomnia―even for a very short time―are at an increased risk for emotional and cognitive problems as well. That is why it is important to see a doctor or other healthcare professional about this problem early on to discuss safe and effective remedies for this problem before it gets any worse.

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          Brian Wu

          Health Writer, Author

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          Last Updated on February 11, 2020

          8 Brain Exercises for Mental Strength and a Smarter Brain

          8 Brain Exercises for Mental Strength and a Smarter Brain

          Everyone says that we need to strive for a healthy body. These people are the people who say we should be going to the gym, exercise daily, and eat the right kind of food.

          And while that advice is helpful, I feel a lot of people forget about another important part of ourselves: our brain.

          Think about it.

          When was the last time that you read a book?

          Most are likely guilty of not having read a book in years. From 2004 to 2018, the number of people in America leisurely reading has dropped by 30%.[1]

          We place so much priority on our bodies, and yet most of us don’t prioritize brain exercises or brain care. Why is that?

          Fortunately, with brain exercises, we can reverse a lot of the damage that’s been done. Thanks to massive developments in neuroscience, we understand when our brain is at peak performance and what we can do to maintain it or bring it back to those levels.

          Do Brain Exercises Really Work?

          The short answer is yes.

          First, there is all of Sherry Willis’ work. From her efforts, participants were able to do varying degrees of difficult tasks. Not only that but they were able to do so in an efficient manner than before.

          There was also an extensive study that looked at the long-term effects of brain exercises on older individuals. The study provided brain exercises to 2,832 individuals aged 65 and up.[2]

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          Over a 10 year period, participants were given training in processing speed, memory, and reasoning. Another smaller controlled group received no such training.

          After that 10 year period, the researchers came back after 5 years to see results. While the training did help the older individuals during the 10 years of brain exercises, those benefits were gone after 5 years.

          After 10 years of having the brain training, there were no signs of brain improvements.

          What this study uncovers is that not only does the training work, but also it’s important to practice this regularly. Similar to our health, if we don’t train our bodies, it’ll deteriorate similar to our brain if we don’t exercise it.

          Which Brain Exercises Are the Best?

          According to research done in 1999, our brain reaches peak performance between age 16 and 25.[3] After that, our cognitive functioning – our ability to mentally process and carry out tasks – declines naturally. This doesn’t mean that we will be mentally incapable of working after a certain period of time though. Rather, our ability to change, process certain tasks, and introduce new processes will be tougher.

          Understanding this is important since brain exercises are designed to keep the brain functional all around.[4] Examples are being able to do daily tasks, retaining memories, and keeping focus. This might not be a big issue right now but, it becomes more pressing when you get older and there are threats of dementia, amnesia, and Alzheimers — mental issues that could be stopped through regular exercise of our brains.

          The question is, what sort of exercises are best for us?

          Simple: personalized brain exercises.

          Many people have tried all kinds of tactics to exercise their brains. And while there is research to support a variety of these claims, there’s more scientific support behind this particular form of training.

          The strategy has been proven by Dr. Sherry Willis, a professor at the University of Texas. Through her research, she proved participants became more efficient at performing typical tasks at varying levels of complexity.[5]

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          Participants were able to write shopping lists to being able to operate technical equipment with ease.

          The big question now is where can you find these sorts of programs?

          Since this research emerged, many businesses have been formed to help in this area. Training can be as simple as playing Sudoku to having full-fledged programs given out by various apps.[6]

          8 Brain Exercises to Strengthen Your Brain

          While having a personalized brain training course is great, not everyone is mentally prepared for them. Instead, people may find it better to strengthen their brains in other ways.

          While these methods lack built-in long-term challenges or personalization, those can be mitigated. That is, if you want to start taking care of your brain as much as you want to look after the rest of your body.

          1. Exercise

          Studies from 2006 show that exercise has tremendous benefits on our brain. Specifically, exercising can protect our brain from shrinkage as it ages.[7]

          While exercise may not be the most engaging or challenging brain exercise, this is one way to get the best of both worlds. Not only that, but you can add a layer of challenge by doing different exercises.

          This helps because it teaches our brain to fire off new signals to our brain. This increases our brains plasticity – the ability to change and think differently. Thus doing new exercises will strengthen our brains.

          2. Drawing Maps

          A lot of us remember the streets we grew up like the back of our hands. We can navigate it with ease with no challenge.

          But have you ever drawn it out before?

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          One good challenge is to draw out the streets and what your neighbourhood looked like. Try to recall iconic landmarks and place them on the map as well.

          Once you’re done with the map, find a real map and compare it with the one you drew. More often than not, you probably missed a few spots here and there. This happens because our brain doesn’t store that specific information for very long. Once we know where we want to go, our brain typically signals us to go a familiar route. We subconsciously comply and think nothing else of it.

          Regardless, drawing a map can help us strengthen our brain and is a step above physical exercise since this demands more brainpower. I’d also encourage you to challenge yourself further and draw larger scale maps. Why not draw a map of the United State and write in all the state’s locations and capitals? Why not do the same with Canada?

          3. Learning Something New

          Barring personalized training, the best form of brain exercise stems from doing something different. Starting something new requires a lot of mental capacity.

          Not only are you learning to do something new, but you also need to keep yourself motivated to continue doing it. Because of this, learning something new will keep us on our toes.

          What’s also nice is that the activities don’t need to be really challenging. For example, one study had two groups and was asked to do different activities.[8] One group was asked to learn new skills like quilting or digital photography. The other was asked to watch movies or listen to the radio.

          The study found that those quilting or doing digital photography had a better memory than those who had more leisure activities. They proved this by giving the individuals memory tests.

          4. Socialize

          When we get older, we tend to have a smaller circle of friends and thus, talk less and less. What’s saddening is the lack of social activity negatively impacts our mental health.

          We’re obviously social creatures, so it should come to no surprise that being socially active is one way to exercise our brain. It also is one way of fighting back dementia and Alzheimer’s.[9]

          Even if you are an introvert, seeking social interactions clearly has short-term and long-term benefits. Some ideas to be socially active is by joining clubs, going for daily walks with people, volunteering in your community, or staying in contact with your family or past friends.

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          5. Doing a Jigsaw Puzzle

          Big or small, research shows that this exercise recruits multiple cognitive abilities.[10]

          6. Playing Card Games

          Similarly, card games both online and offline can prove useful for your brain. One study in 2015 found that card games activate various parts of the brain.[11] Games included poker, crazy eights, solitaire, bridge, and gin rummy.

          7. Learning a New Language

          I mentioned earlier that learning something new is good but, it doesn’t always have to be a physical skill. Learning a new language activates many regions of our brain while also boosting cognition.[12]

          8. Taking a New Route to a Familiar Destination

          That or simply go down a different road. This doesn’t apply to driving or travelling but to any sort of problem that you deal with in life. By pushing yourself to think of other alternatives, your brain receives a number of benefits from making a simple change as these taxi drivers discovered.

          Bottom Line

          A lot of the reasons to consider brain exercises in our lives is similar to our health. As you can probably tell, these exercises do not take very long. They can be easily integrated into our daily lives.

          Furthermore, brain exercises improve our focus, memory, and ability to complete daily activities. To stop doing brain exercises is to remove all of those benefits that can help us significantly as we get older.

          So if you can’t get personalized brain training, consider the strategies I mentioned above. You’d be surprised how easy and how quickly you’ll notice changes in your life from this.

          More to Sharpen Your Brain

          Featured photo credit: Micael Sáez via unsplash.com

          Reference

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