Sleepless nights can sap joy and increase your risk of anxiety, major study reveals


Even just missing an hour or two of sleep can have a negative impact on your emotions, researchers have found.


It’s well known that lack of sleep not only makes you tired, but can also have a harmful physical impact on your body.

But a new study has revealed that those sleepless nights have even darker consequences: They sap joy and increase the risk of anxiety.

In an analysis of more than 50 years of research on sleep deprivation and mood, researchers wanted to discover the psychological impact of what they called our “largely sleep-deprived society.”

Publication of results in the journal Psychological bulletinthey analyzed data from 154 studies spanning five decades.

In studies, there were more than 5,000 participants whose sleep was interrupted for one or more nights. Some were kept awake for extended periods, while others were given a shorter-than-normal amount of sleep.

Another group of participants was periodically awakened throughout the night.

The studies then measured at least one emotional variable following disrupted sleep, with participants self-reporting their mood and response to emotional stimuli, as well as being measured for symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The researchers found that all three types of sleep disorders resulted in fewer positive emotions, including joy, happiness and contentment. They also had increased symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and increased levels of worry.

There were some findings related to depression symptoms, but these were smaller and less consistent. Similar results were found for an increase in negative emotions such as sadness, worry and stress.

“In our largely sleep-deprived society, quantifying the effects of sleep loss on emotions is critical to promoting psychological health,” said the study’s 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 prolonged wakefulness, shortened sleep duration, and nocturnal awakenings adversely affect human emotional functioning.”

Palmer added that negative effects occurred “even after short periods of sleep loss,” including staying up an hour or two later than normal.

“We also found that sleep loss increases anxiety symptoms and dampens arousal in response to emotional stimuli,” he said.

“Largely sleep-deprived society”

The researchers noted that one limitation of the study was that most participants were young adults with an average age of 23.

A more diverse age sample in future research could provide a better understanding of the effect of sleep deprivation on emotions.

They would also like to look at the effects of sleep loss in different cultures, as most of the research in this study was conducted in the United States and Europe.

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

“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 risks to daytime functioning and well-being.”

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