You already know that too little sleep can make it harder to concentrate and to find the energy necessary to get through the day. And according to research published in Depression and Anxiety, poor sleep may also make it more difficult for people experiencing depression or anxiety to shake off negative feelings.

Researchers focused on a part of the brain associated with regulating negative mood responses. It’s called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and it was one of several parts of the brain studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In the study, participants (all of whom had been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder or both) were showed disturbing or unpleasant images from wartime or accidents while the MRI was ongoing. The researchers wanted to study how the brain reacted as the participants processed the images and tried to regulate their responses.

Later, the participants filled out questionnaires that included information about their sleep during the previous month, among other topics. The researchers found that participants who reported poor sleep had much less activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

The research suggests that people who have depression and/or anxiety will have a harder time trying to keep a positive outlook if they are having difficulty sleeping. Addressing sleep problems should be a priority for people struggling with these mood disorders.

Even for those who aren’t experiencing any symptoms of depression or anxiety, getting enough sleep is still important to help protect against mood disorders.

This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, dedicated to maintaining mental fitness for middle age and beyond.

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