Abstract

Cognitive reappraisal (CR) is a strategy used to regulate emotions that is thought to be effective but effortful, relying on higher-order cognitive control systems to engage in active regulation. Sleep deprivation is believed to impair the functioning of these control systems, suggesting that it may impede the ability to implement CR effectively. This study tested the causal effects of sleep deprivation on emotional reactivity and the neurobiological systems underlying CR. We employed a within-subject crossover design in which participants underwent fMRI scanning twice, once when fully rested and once after a night of total sleep deprivation. During scans, participants passively viewed or used CR to down-regulate their emotional response to negative and neutral images. Contrary to hypotheses, both self-reported negative affect ratings and neural responses to the images indicated no difference in the way participants implemented CR when sleep deprived and when fully rested. Meanwhile, neural regions that showed distinct reactivity responses to negative relative to neutral images lost this specificity under deprived conditions. Negative affect ratings and heart rate deceleration, a physiological response typically evoked by aversive pictures, exhibited a similar blunting. Together, these results suggest that, although sleep deprivation may reduce the discrimination between emotional reactivity responses to negative and neutral stimuli, it does not impact CR the way it is presently studied.

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