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Can a Lack of Sleep Cause Psychiatric Disorders?: Scientific American

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07/19/2008 11:41 AM
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Can a Lack of Sleep Cause Psychiatric Disorders?: Scientific American

Can a Lack of Sleep Cause Psychiatric Disorders?
Study shows that sleep deprivation leads to a rewiring of the brain's emotional circuitry

By Nikhil Swaminathan

There's no question that people need their sleep: studies have linked a lack of shut-eye to everything from disruptions in the immune system to cognitive deficits to weight control.

In fact, psychologist Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, says that "almost all psychiatric disorders show some problems with sleep.'' But, he says that scientists previously believed the psychiatric problems triggered the sleep issues. New research from his lab, however, suggests the reverse is the case; that is, a lack of shut-eye is causing some psychological disturbances.

Walker's team and collaborators from Harvard Medical School reached their conclusions, published in Current Biology, after studying 26 healthy students aged 24 to 31 after either an all-nighter or a full night's sleep.

Fourteen subjects spent 35 straight hours without getting a wink before being rolled into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners where their brains were observed while they viewed a set of 100 photos that became increasingly disturbing as they progressed. Early slides were snapshots of an empty wicker basket on a table; the scenes changed as the series progressed, however, to more shocking settings, such as a tarantula on a person's shoulder and finally pictures of burn victims and other traumatic portraits.

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