Sleep and Stress: What You Need to Know

A lot of people find that they get too little sleep while dealing with too much stress. As you might have suspected, those two problems often go hand in hand.

Monitoring Mice

A recent study has shed light on the connection between poor sleeping habits and mental health woes. Authored by a team from NYU’s Abu Dhabi’s Laboratory of Neural Systems and Behavior, this study based its conclusions on observations of laboratory mice.

The authors documented each mouse’s sleep characteristics both before and after encountering “chronic social defeat” stress, or CSD for short. In both humans and animals alike, exposure to CSD leads to a host of problems, potentially altering behavior, brain function, physiology, hormone levels and health.

After being exposed to CSD, the mice were divided into two groups based on their reactions; one group was for mice who exhibited “social avoidance,” while the others were characterized by their ability to handle stress. The authors noted that those in the first group displayed signs of poor sleeping patterns, writing that “mice susceptible to stress displayed increased fragmentation of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep from increased switching between NREM and wake and shorter average duration of NREM bouts, relative to mice resilient to stress.”

Making Things Worse

The mice’s problems with sleep didn’t start with their CSD stress exposure. The research team found that mice who were vulnerable to CSD exhibited “pre-existing abnormal sleep/ wake characteristics” before the CSD testing. After being exposed to stressful situations, these rodents’ sleep quality further deteriorated, as did their responses to challenging situations.

In a NYU press release, study authors Dipesh Chaudhury and Basma Radwan wrote that “our study is the first to provide an animal model to investigate the relationship between poor sleep continuity and vulnerability to chronic stress and depressive disorders. This marker of vulnerability to stress opens up avenues for many possible future studies that could further explain the underlying molecular processes and neural circuitry that lead to mood disorders.”

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