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7 Strange Ways Sleep Deprivation Messes With Your Mind

Pay attention, new dads. If you can, that is.

by Dan Katter
Originally Published: 
A sleep-deprived man rubs his eyes at work while on his laptop.

Going without sleep for a long period of time, be it because of a colicky baby or an all-night TV binge session, does far more than mess with your energy levels. When you’re sleep deprived, your brain starts rerouting the flow of resources to other areas. This, as you could imagine, is not good for the business of being you. Losing serious sleep even makes you more susceptible to weight gain, heart disease, and depression. But those take time. So what kind of shenanigans do you need to look out for the day after an all-nighter? Here are seven of the strangest.

You Might Feel Like You Just Took A Bong Rip

You may already be seeing things, but staying up too late can make you feel like a stoner in more ways than one. Sleep loss creates a drive for fatty food that mimics the pathways stimulated by marijuana. Sleep appears to suppress the brain’s natural production of certain endocannabinoids, the active ingredients in weed. The increased activity of these particular endocannabinoids during periods of sleep loss could explain why exhausted people crave rich foods. But it doesn’t explain why they hate jam bands.

You Probably Won’t Have A Sense Of Humor

Deciding that something is or isn’t worth laughing at is a complicated neural process, and a tired brain just isn’t up to the task. Spend time developing a hearty fake laugh and deploy it whenever you think someone may have made a joke.

You Might Get Sleep Deprivation Hallucinations

According to several studies from around the world, the severely sleep-deprived often experience visual hallucinations. These can take the form of undulating patterns and lights, or distinct figures like animals and cartoon characters. Neuroscientists have discovered that staying up all night can cause a healthy brain to process visual stimuli in the same manner as a brain with schizophrenia. But hey, at least you’ll have some company when you’re chilling in the nursery at 4 a.m.

Or Feel A Strange Sense Of Giddiness

For many of us, sleep deprivation has one big, obvious consequence: We feel tired and grumpy. However, a lack of sleep can occasionally swing our mood to the other end of the spectrum, when a euphoric sense of silliness sets in. Interestingly, this is especially common among people with major depression. The underlying phenomenon isn’t entirely understood, but doctors have found some success using sleep deprivation to treat depression.

You’ll Have To Rely On Your GPS

Sleep loss has a profound effect on the hippocampus, a part of the brain strongly associated with spatial memory and spatial processing. A series of experiments with mazes found that sleep-deprived college students had an unusually hard time navigating through new environments and recalling places they had already been. As a new dad, you probably won’t be leaving your house too much, but make sure you know the floorplan cold before your new tenant arrives.

You Could Become Very Sensitive

Bang your knee on the kitchen counter and find yourself ready to weep? A 2013 Korean study found that sleep-deprived subjects were twice as sensitive to physical pain as their healthy counterparts. Turns out having a baby makes you into one.

You’ll Crave Serious Snacks

An oddly specific Swedish study tested the effect of sleep deprivation on health-conscious grocery shopping. Researchers found that tired shoppers were more likely to spend more money overall and purchase calorically dense processed foods. The snack aisle plays to the major weaknesses of an all-nighter impaired brain: It’s hungry, impulsive, and weak on self-control. On the other hand, you’re a dad now. No one is going to stop you from getting that 100 pack of Devil Dogs, so live it up.

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