Grouchy Crouchy

This last week I’ve been a bit of a bitch – well, a lot of a bitch some of the time! You know that feeling of irritability where even the sounds of someone breathing can result in the most cataclysmic explosion of rage?! If you don’t, you are NOT NORMAL! And don’t even get me started on the ‘quiet’ section in the library… (Today people came in and started playing cards… Snap is not a suitable library pastime!).

The cheeky people who know me will probably be thinking up some clever retort, ‘What’s new?’ etc but the reason behind the heightened levels of bitching and moaning is that I’ve been tired. Oh so tired! I’m an 8-hours-a-night kind of girl, anything less than that just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid. I felt like I needed some kind of scientific explanation for my behaviour, so once again I turned to the wonderful world of research for some answers.

One particular unhelpful study I can across was one which stated that “The aim of the study was to trace the consequences of insufficient sleep.” They saw a positive correlation between a prolonged decrease in sleep and increase fatigue and mood problems. Ummm….. duh!? The methodology was also a little dodgy; it relied heavily on self-reported questionnaires giving room for highly subjective responses.

I must note that I do have a new favourite phrase from the paper, ‘binge-sleeping’. That is when someone has very little sleep for a few days and then tries to catch up all in one night! Sound familiar? Anyway, back to the quest to explain Grouchy Crouchy…!

I came across a review entitled “The emotional brain and sleep: An intimate relationship” which gave me some good insight. Sleep, the review says probably “plays a facilitating role in the processing and the regulation of emotional stress.”

And it appears to do this through REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep). A potential clue to how REM sleep might do this is revealed by studies that have shown dreams during REM sleep are more emotionally laden (over those experienced during non-REM sleep). Are dreams a form an emotional processing? No really, are they?! It’s a question still to be answered unfortunately!

The areas of the brain involved in modulating emotion during sleep seem to involve forebrain structures and limbic areas; there is altered activation in these areas between REM, non-REM sleep and wakefulness. Importantly, some of these alterations are similar to conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which lead the authors to note:

“In anxiety disorders such as PTSD and depression, similarly as in sleep, we also notice an enhanced emotional processing and thus an increased activation of the amygdala with a low activation of the prefrontal area involved in the modulation and inhabitation of the amygdala… During dreaming, similarly to the processes during PTSD in wakefulness, the processed information may be organised and follow some still unknown logic, where the brain combines certain aspects of life by inhibiting some and selecting others, resulting in an under- or overrepresentation of certain themes and emotions.”

In other words they suggest that REM-usually moderates our emotions, and if we don’t get enough then it could we are more negative!

Thing is, it’s still all a little unclear. The authors caution that “activated patterns of brain area in [these disorders] are only partly similar to the patterns of active brain in REM-sleep,” and outline quite how much further research is needed!

Still, it is well documented how sleep deprivation causes deficits in your cognitive and motor skills, and there was also a paper recently which concluded that sleep could boost your memory. So my 8 hours a night is definitely a good thing…and I’m subscribing Nathan’s Naps for memory boosting top ups!

Oh and sorry for being a Grouchy Crouchy!

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