Sleep deprivation goes beyond inducing sleepiness, as revealed by a comprehensive study released by the American Psychological Association. Synthesizing over 50 years of research on sleep deprivation and mood, the study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, highlights its adverse effects on emotional functioning, diminishing positive emotions, and increasing the risk of anxiety symptoms.
Lead author Cara Palmer, PhD, of Montana State University, emphasized the critical need to quantify the impact of sleep loss on emotion in our largely sleep-deprived society. The study represents the most extensive synthesis of experimental sleep and emotion research to date, analyzing data from 154 studies with 5,715 participants spanning five decades.
Researchers disrupted participants’ sleep in various ways, including extended wakefulness, shortened sleep duration, and periodic awakenings throughout the night. The study measured emotion-related variables, such as self-reported mood, response to emotional stimuli, and indicators of depression and anxiety symptoms.
The findings indicate that all forms of sleep loss resulted in a decrease in positive emotions like joy and happiness, along with an increase in anxiety symptoms such as a rapid heart rate and heightened worrying. Notably, even short periods of sleep loss, like staying up an hour or two later than usual, had these effects. Sleep loss also increased anxiety symptoms and dulled arousal in response to emotional stimuli.
While the study found smaller and less consistent effects on symptoms of depression and negative emotions, the implications for individual and public health are substantial. Given that a significant percentage of adults and teens do not get enough sleep, the researchers suggest that industries and sectors prone to sleep loss, such as first responders, pilots, and truck drivers, should prioritize sleep in their policies to mitigate risks to daytime function and well-being. The study’s limitation, focused mainly on young adults, calls for future research to explore diverse age groups and cultural variations in sleep deprivation effects.