Effect of sleep deprivation on emotional working memory

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Abstract

The emotional dysregulation and impaired working memory found after sleep loss can have severe implications for our daily functioning. Considering the intertwined relationship between emotion and cognition in stimuli processing, there could be further implications of sleep deprivation in high-complex emotional situations. Although studied separately, this interaction between emotion and cognitive processes has been neglected in sleep research. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of 1 night of sleep deprivation on emotional working memory. Sixty-one healthy participants (mean age: 23.4 years) were either sleep deprived for 1 night (n = 30) or had a normal night’s sleep (n = 31). They performed an N-back task with two levels of working memory load (1-back and 3-back) using positive, neutral and negative picture scenes. Sleep deprivation, compared with full night sleep, impaired emotional working memory accuracy, but not reaction times. The sleep-deprived participants, but not the controls, responded faster to positive than to negative and neutral pictures. The effect of sleep deprivation was similar for both high and low working memory loads. The results showed that although detrimental in terms of accuracy, sleep deprivation did not impair working memory speed. In fact, our findings indicate that positive stimuli may facilitate working memory processing speed after sleep deprivation.

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