Everyone knows that sleep deprivation makes people cranky. Our ability to cope with life’s annoyances dips when we don’t get enough sleep.
But sleep deprivation affects a lot more than just our behavior in the moment. Medical research has shown that sleep deprivation affects our “emotional memories,” meaning our perception of an event or period in life is permanently shaped by how much sleep we were getting at the time.
Buckle up for safety, kids. The Leesa Blog is about to drop some science.
In the study, researchers developed a list of words which fell into three categories: words considered neutral (chair, view, Scrabble), negative (upset, taxes, zombie), or positive (smile, unicorn, Beyoncé)*, then asked the subjects to remember as many words on the list as they could. Unsurprisingly, sleep’s effect on learning showed up: People who’d been sleep deprived when they saw the list performed 40% worse at remembering the words overall. But the more interesting finding was that the sleep-deprived group’s ability to remember the words with negative connotations only decreased by 20%, suggesting that when we’re sleep deprived, we’re twice as likely to form strong negative memories than we are positive or neutral ones.
We recently flexed some vocab skills with the brilliant word hangry on the Leesa blog. Turns out hangry has a delightfully intuitive cousin, slangry: Where sleep deprivation and anger crash into each other, back up, then try to run each other down again because they’re still mad about the first time. If you’re alive, you’ve felt this.
Think back to a time in life that was difficult for you. Grief, stress, anxiety, regret, or heartbreak can all affect our sleep, and in the most extreme cases they almost always do. But this study raises the possibility of a causal link in the other direction: What if you remember those times as particularly difficult because you weren’t getting enough sleep?
While that might not seem like a huge deal, it is when you think about it like this: People who are generally happy tend to have positive worldviews. Instead of feeling victimized, they’re inclined to make productive or useful observations about tough situations and move on. Instead of “I hate my boss for making me do this boring project,” they might think “What skill can I take from this? How can I use this scenario so that I never have to file 18,000 spec sheets about socks again?” If getting enough sleep can help change a person’s default worldview – the lens through which you see the world – from negative to positive, it has the potential to change the entire trajectory of people’s lives.
What am I saying here? That getting enough sleep will make your kids get along, cure depression and bring about world peace? Nah. But science says it can’t hurt.
*Just kidding about the word examples. I made those up, but you get the idea.
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