If you’ve ever stayed up late, you’re probably accustomed to the peculiar sensation of having a completely fatigued body but a fully alert, almost giddy head. It turns out that the delirious state is actually beneficial to healing.
Northwestern University neurobiologists tested this notion in a recent study that was published in the Neuron publication. In order to study mice’s behaviors and brain activity, researchers deprived them of sleep for the duration of the experiment. They discovered that when their brains were rewiring themselves to sustain the heightened mood for days, there was an increase in dopamine release and an improvement in synaptic plasticity during the period of sleep loss. Ultimately, compared to the mice that slept regularly, the insomniac mice were less depressed, more gregarious, aggressive, and sexual.
Prof. Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, a co-author of the study, stated that “chronic sleep loss is well studied, and its uniformly detrimental effects are widely documented.” However, short-term sleep deprivation—such as the same as a student staying up late studying for a test—is not as well recognized.
“We found that sleep loss induces a potent antidepressant effect and rewires the brain,” she said. “This is an important reminder of how our casual activities, such as a sleepless night, can fundamentally alter the brain in as little as a few hours.”
Of course, if you’re depressed, you shouldn’t completely stop sleeping. The positive news from the newest research only relates to acute sleep loss, such as missing just one night’s worth of sleep, as Kozorovitskiy pointed out, and persistent sleep loss only has a negative influence on our health. Try to get as much sleep as you can in any case.