Loss of Sleep Amplifies Emotional Reactions

Students pulling frequent all-nighters, beware. A new book on sleep suggests that sleep loss is associated with amplified emotional responses.

Students pulling frequent all-nighters, beware. A new book on sleep suggests that sleep loss is associated with amplified emotional responses.

Sleep and Affect: Assessment, Theory, and Clinical Implications summarized studies related to sleep and its effects on emotion and mood disorders. One such study demonstrated that those who slept for 4 hours expressed significant increases in anxiety and anger when compared with subjects who slept more normal hours.

Compared with the control group, those who slept less also saw moderate increases in their stress and depression levels when exposed to a low-stress experimental task.

Another study involving patients who had undergone a traumatic event found that those who self-reported sleep deficiency prior to the event were more likely to develop psychiatric disorders after the trauma.

A study of medical residents suggested that poor sleep could be linked to less motivation and reduced functioning overall.

Adolescents in another study who experienced sleep restriction of 6.5 hours for 5 nights reported increased feelings of anger and anxiety when compared with 5 nights of a healthier sleeping pattern. The adolescents also reported less positive affect during the sleep restriction period, and they found emotion regulation was more difficult when lacking sleep.

Overall, the results provided evidence that less sleep or poorer sleep quality can worsen individuals’ ability to appraise different situations and also cause a more emotional response to neutral or mildly negative events.

“One of the themes that emerged across these chapters is that certain components of emotion seem particularly linked to sleep,” said Matthew T. Feldner, co-editor of the book and professor of psychology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, in a press release. “What we call ‘stressors’ tend to be more emotionally arousing for people who haven’t slept well, and emotional arousal also appears to interfere with sleep quality.”