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What Are The Risks of Sleep Deprivation-Induced Euphoria?

By Manjari Bansal
Prolonged sleep deprivation can give you feelings of euphoria or a high. Find out more about sleep deprivation-induced euphoria and its negative outcomes.

Losing a few hours of sleep can make you lethargic and drowsy. However, when you miss a full night’s sleep or more, you may experience sleep deprivation-induced euphoria, which can make you feel happy, content, and motivated for a short period of time. Read on to learn more about this form of euphoria and its associated risks.

Sleep Deprivation-Induced Euphoria

“A side effect of sleep deprivation is short-term euphoria, which causes a temporary high,” Holly Schiff, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Sleep deprivation boosts activity in the part of the brain that is driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to the brain’s reward center. Sleep deprivation-induced euphoria affects your mood in the short term and you might feel a giddy rush. You are flooded with endorphins that make you feel elated, but now you are prone to impulsivity and mistakes, and the elation is short-lived,” Schiff explains.

According to Berkeley Psychology at the University of California, short-term euphoria is a lesser-known side effect of sleep deprivation that may make you feel happy, motivated, and content for a short duration. 

In one study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Medical School examined the brains of young adults and found that, after missing one night’s sleep, the pleasure circuit of their brains got a big boost. Also, brain scans showed increased activity in the mesolimbic pathway of the brain, which is driven by dopamine, a hormone that regulates feelings of happiness, motivation, addiction, cravings, sex drive, and decision-making.  

Schiff tells WebMD Connect to Care that symptoms of sleep-deprivation euphoria may include:

  • Feelings of extreme happiness
  • Excitement and self-confidence
  • Signs of profound joy such as giddiness, laughter, and smiling
  • Inflated feelings of optimism

And, on the more negative side of the spectrum, euphoria resulting from a lack of sleep can also result in:

  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety

Risks of Sleep Deprivation Euphoria

Short-term feelings of positivity due to dopamine release may seem advantageous. However, they can prove to be unfavorable, especially when people make impulsive decisions due to overly optimistic thoughts. Professionals such as doctors, drivers, or pilots—who make crucial safety decisions on a daily basis—should be especially aware of this consequence of insufficient sleep.

Additionally, sleep deprivation shuts down the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and planning, and activates the amygdala region of the brain, which regulates the fight-or-flight reflex. This further affects your ability to make wise and thoughtful decisions.

Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in Texas, tells WebMD Connect to Care that sleep deprivation euphoria has various associated risks, including: 

  • Risky behavior such as drug misuse and gambling
  • Sharing personal information
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor judgment
  • Short attention span
  • Loss of memory and frequent forgetting 
  • Strange food cravings 

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