Lack of Sleep Does Not Interfere With Ability to Process Emotional Situations


Washington State University study results show that slumber-deprived individuals had more difficulty reducing the emotions they felt when so instructed than those who slept normally.

Lack of sleep can affect an individual’s mood, but it does not interfere with the ability to evaluate emotional situations, results of a new study conducted by Washington State University (WSU) show.

“Reacting normally to emotional situations but not being able to control your own emotions, could be 1 reason sleep loss sometimes produces catastrophic errors in stressful situations,” Paul Whitney, a WSU professor of psychology, said in a statement.

Investigators found that the moods of individuals who went 24 hours without sleep were affected. However, their ability to process emotional images and words was unchanged.

The results show that sleep loss does not make health care professionals numb to emotional situations, but it might make them less likely to control their own emotional response.

The study included 60 individuals who spent 4 days in the Sleep and Performance Research Center at the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. The first night, individuals could sleep normally, which was used to evaluate their baseline emotional regulation, response, and processing ability.

Individuals were separated into 2 groups: 40 who spent the second night awake and 20 who were allowed a normal sleeping period.

The emotional regulation and processing tests involved a series of images with negative and positive emotional connotations. Individuals were given a prompt to help them recontextualize negative images before seeing them and controlling their feelings.

The study results showed that the sleep-deprived group had more difficulty reducing the emotions that they felt when they were so instructed.

The processing test involved individuals responding to images and words with emotional content, and all individuals performed similarly on these tests.


Sleep loss does not impact ability to assess emotional information. EurekAlert. News release. October 11, 2021. Accessed on October 12, 2021.

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