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Sleep deprivation has a big impact on emotional well-being

A recent study published by the American Psychological Association has shed light on the profound impact of sleep deprivation on our emotional well-being

This extensive research, synthesizing over 50 years of data, reveals that lack of sleep significantly affects our mood, increases anxiety, and dampens positive emotions.

Psychological health 

“In our largely sleep-deprived society, quantifying the effects of sleep loss on emotion is critical for promoting psychological health,” said study lead author Dr. Cara Palmer of Montana State University

“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.”

Focus of the research 

In collaboration with co-lead author Dr. Joanne Bower of East Anglia University and their team, Dr. Palmer analyzed data from 154 studies spanning five decades, involving 5,715 participants. 

The studies disrupted participants’ sleep in various ways: extended wakefulness, reduced sleep duration, and intermittent awakenings. 

Post-sleep manipulation, the researchers had assessed emotional variables such as mood, response to emotional stimuli, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Critical insights

The findings are striking. All forms of sleep loss led to a reduction in positive emotions like joy and contentment and heightened anxiety symptoms, including increased heart rate and worrying. 

“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 of hours of sleep,” said Dr. Palmer. “We also found that sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli.”

Depression symptoms 

However, the study’s findings on depression symptoms and negative emotions like sadness and stress were less consistent and significant. 

A notable limitation of this research is its focus on young adults, with an average participant age of 23. 

Future research 

According to the experts, future research should include a more diverse age sample to better understand how sleep deprivation affects people at different ages, according to the researchers. 

Other directions for future research could include examining the effects of multiple nights of sleep loss, looking at individual differences to find out why some people may be more vulnerable than others to the effects of sleep loss, and examining the effects of sleep loss across different cultures, as most of the research in the current study was conducted in the United States and Europe, according to the researchers.

Study implications 

“Research has found that more than 30 percent of adults and up to 90 percent of teens don’t get enough sleep,” said Dr. Palmer. 

“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.”

The study is published in the journal Psychological Bulletin

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