Anxious and Joyless? You Might Just Be Sleep Deprived

Anxious and Joyless? You Might Just Be Sleep Deprived

Not getting enough sleep is bad for both your physical health and your emotional well-being, as new research shows. The study, a review of existing data from clinical trials, found that even short bouts of sleep deprivation can reduce people’s positive emotions and make them more anxious.

For the research, scientists at Montana State University and elsewhere reviewed and analyzed data from over 50 years of experimental research on the effects of sleep deprivation. In total, they looked at 154 studies that collectively involved 5,175 people. These experiments varied in length and design, but all of them disrupted people’s sleep for at least a night (in some, for instance, people were kept from sleeping; in others, people were woken up mid-sleep). People’s emotional states were assessed before and after these experiments.

Overall, the team found a consistent link between sleep loss and certain mood changes, relative to volunteers’ baseline mood. People tended to experience less of positive emotions like joy and contentment post-sleep deprivation, for instance. They also tended to experience an increased heart rate and other signs of anxiety.

“This occurred even after short periods of sleep loss, like staying up an hour or two later than usual or after losing just a few hours of sleep,” said lead author Cara Palmer, director of the Sleep and Development Lab at MSU, in a statement from the university. “We also found that sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli.”

The study authors did find less of a link between sleep loss and increased negative emotions like sadness as well as symptoms of depression. But it’s still possible that different types of sleep loss might make us more likely to experience certain negative emotions than others, or that certain groups of people are more susceptible to emotional changes from losing sleep than others.

The study’s findings were published Thursday in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

The team notes that these studies largely involved younger people, so future research should look at how sleep deprivation can affect people of all ages and address other important questions. But they say there’s already more than enough evidence to show that sleep deprivation is harmful to both our physical and psychological health. And they argue that much more should be done to ensure that everyone can get a good night’s rest.

“Research has found that more than 30 percent of adults and up to 90 percent of teens don’t get enough sleep,” Palmer said. “The implications of this research for individual and public health are considerable in a largely sleep-deprived society. Industries and sectors prone to sleep loss, such as first responders, pilots and truck drivers, should develop and adopt policies that prioritize sleep to mitigate against the risks to daytime function and well-being.”

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