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Sleepless nights can cause short-term euphoria: study

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Everyone knew that guy in university: the one who'd pull back-to-back all-nighters to write a paper for his Intro to Post-Colonialism class, hand it in with a minute left on the clock, and then go out for a long, debaucherous night of partying. No post-essay hibernation necessary for that guy.

Here's an explanation for why he could pull it off: It turns out a side effect of sleep deprivation is short-term euphoria, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers at UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School used Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan the brains of 27 young adults -- half had pulled an all-nighter, the other half had indulged in a good night's rest. The study was designed to investigate why people who were clinically depressed often reported feeling more positive after a sleepless night.

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In the study, the participants who were sleep deprived had more activity in the part of their brain responsible for regulating positive feelings (it's also responsible for sex drive, craving and addiction).

Participants also viewed various pleasant scenes and were asked to rate the pictures as positive or neutral. The ones who'd pulled all-nighters gave much more positive ratings to the images.

But before you make the hasty conclusion that this is a clear upside to pulling an all-nighter, consider that the part of the brain that regulates those warm, fuzzy feelings is also responsible for decision making. Researchers say a sleep-deprived brain can "swing to both extremes," which means it's not always in the best state to make good judgment calls.

As for Joe? From that Intro to Post-Colonialism class? Researchers suggest you probably wouldn't want him performing surgery on you or managing your stock portfolio -- that lack of sleep might make him a little too optimistic.

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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