Sleep deprivation has more effects on us than just making us tired. A study synthesising over 50 years of research on sleep deprivation and mood was published by the American Psychological Association. It suggests that sleep deprivation may impair our ability to operate emotionally, reduce positive feelings, and raise our likelihood of experiencing symptoms of worry.
Lead author of the study Cara Palmer, PhD, of Montana State University, stated, “Quantifying the effects of sleep loss on emotion is critical for promoting psychological health in our largely sleep-deprived society.” “This study represents the most comprehensive synthesis of experimental sleep and emotion research to date, and provides strong evidence that periods of extended wakefulness, shortened sleep duration, and nighttime awakenings adversely influence human emotional functioning.”
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Palmer and her associates examined data from 154 research spanning five decades, totaling 5,715 people. Among them was co-lead author Joanne Bower, PhD, of East Anglia University. Researchers disturbed subjects’ sleep for one or more nights in each of those experiments. In certain trials, subjects were kept awake for a long time.
In certain cases, they were given less sleep than usual, while in other cases, they experienced nighttime awakenings. Following the sleep manipulation, at least one emotion-related variable was evaluated in each research. These variables included the participants’ self-reported mood, how they responded to emotional stimuli, and indicators of their symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Overall, the researchers discovered that individuals had fewer positive emotions like joy, happiness, and contentment as well as more anxiety symptoms like a racing heartbeat and more worrying in response to all three forms of sleep loss.
“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,” Palmer explained. “We also found that sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli.”
The results for depressive symptoms and negative emotions including tension, worry, and sadness were less numerous and less reliable.
The study’s main drawback is that, with an average age of 23, most of the participants were young people. The researchers suggest that in order to have a better understanding of the effects of sleep deprivation on individuals at different ages, future study should incorporate a more diverse age sample.
Since the majority of the research for the current study was done in the United States and Europe, the researchers suggest that future research should also look at the effects of multiple nights of sleep loss, individual differences to determine why some people may be more vulnerable than others to the effects of sleep loss, and the effects of sleep loss across cultures.
“Research has found that more than 30 per cent of adults and up to 90 per cent of teens don’t get enough sleep,” Palmer stated.
This discovery has significant ramifications for both public and individual health in a world where sleep deprivation is widespread. To reduce the hazards to daytime function and well-being, industries and sectors that are prone to sleep loss, such as first responders, pilots, and truck drivers, should create and implement rules that prioritize sleep.