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Positive or negative? Sleep may make the difference

One thing that I know about pain is it affects your sleep. So does being too warm. So, last week, with the 30°C temperatures and the ongoing pain in my wrist, was exhausting. It, therefore, intrigued me then when I found a new article that looked at the impacts of sleep deprivation on the likelihood that a person would focus on positive or negative stimuli.

Vargas, Drake, and Lopez-Duran (2017) evaluated whether sleep deprivation changed what people focused on, and it did, sort of. Individuals who were sleep deprived, but are not normally sleep deprived, were less likely to focus on positive stimuli. They did not however focus more on negative stimuli which is good, they just focused less. Individuals who are used to being sleep deprived didn’t really change their focus.

The stimulus used were faces that displayed happy, sad, or neutral facial expressions; therefore, I have to ask what would happen if this wasn’t studied in a laboratory environment? Sometimes in our attempts to get scientifically valid data we create situations that are very artificial. If these same sleep deprived people were standing on the train on their morning commute what would they do? where would they look?

For myself, when I’m tired as I commute on the train it is what goes on in my brain that is the better indicator. When I’m well rested I will be thinking about different things whether that is planning my next blog post, or contemplating the meaning of life. Typically speaking, my thoughts are relatively positive or neutral. But when I’m tired I just zone out. I have to remind myself to check what stop I’m at, or really work to plan what I’m going to do after work. It’s not that I’m not focusing on the positive, it’s that I’m not focusing.

Controlled studies in laboratories are great, but there are many areas of life and the world that cannot be studied in controlled environments. I personally feel like this is one of them. But at least it has made me think that I might need to remind myself more of positive things when I am suffering from sleep deprivation.


Vargas, I., Drake, C. L., &Lopez-Duran, N. L.. (2017). Insomnia Symptom Severity Modulates The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Attentional Biases to Emotional Information. Cognitive Therapy and Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10608-017-9859-4

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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