Everything makes me laugh so damn hard when I’m tired! Here’s a scenario that may sound familiar: After a not-so-great night’s sleep, you’re exhausted, delirious, and struggling to get through the day. As you sit staring at your to-do list, someone tells a lame dad joke. Typically, you’d just roll your eyes and crack a fake smile. However, today you laugh so hard you’re crying and can’t seem to catch your breath.
While you may be concerned about your sudden drop in your class of humor, know it’s not just you. There’s even a term for sleep-deprivation-induced fits of giggles: muffin point, according to the Urban Dictionary. It’s not necessarily the phrase a scientist would use to describe the phenomenon, per se, but psychologist Kyler Shumway, PsyD, says a lack of quality zzzs does make things feel funnier. (Research finds it also makes us feel like we’re drunk, FYI.)
“It starts with the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex.” “In many ways, the prefrontal cortex works like the brake pedal for your emotions,” Dr. Shumway says. “Your nervous system is constantly reacting to the environment, and your prefrontal cortex has to decide whether to let the feelings out or not.”
“Eventually they give up, and whatever emotion is present—laughter, rage, or sobbing, etc.—it comes out,” Dr. Shumway says. So in a sense, having strong emotional reactions to small things, difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks, anxiety, and depression, can all be indicators of sleep deprivation, he adds.
“Sleep deprivation is incredibly dangerous, both in the short and long term,” Dr. Shumway says. “ He adds that things are even worse for those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. “They can experience a reduced immune system response, increased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, decreased working memory and reaction times,” he says.
Conversely, research finds that those who are well-rested perform better at all these functions, tend to have an easier time regulating their emotions and moods, and are more alert.
What to do if you reach the muffin point of no return
It’s common to go through periods in your life when you feeling more run down and burnt out than usual. “If you need to occasionally push through periods of sleep deprivation in order to navigate life’s challenges like finishing a project or taking care of an emergency, that’s okay.”
But that isn’t the case if sleep deprivation is happening on the regular. If that’s the case, it’s time to start looking at lifestyle changes. “Stimulants, such as caffeine, can reduce the experience of tiredness. However, they tend to mask the underlying symptoms of exhaustion rather than act as a cure,” Dr. Shumway warns.
Rather, he suggests speaking to a professional to get to the root cause. “If you struggle with chronic sleep deprivation or insomnia, consider working with a therapist that specializes in CBT-I.”
[cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia]
-A specialized form of talk therapy designed to treat difficulties with sleep. Consult with your general practitioner to determine if there are underlying conditions that could be keeping you up at night. Either way, you’ll sleep better knowing you’re doing something about it.