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May 29, 2024

Lack of Sleep Found to Negatively Impact Mood and Mental Health

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Dec 25, 2023

A major new study analyzing 50 years of sleep research has revealed that even minor nightly sleep disruptions can significantly increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. Researchers say the findings demonstrate how critical uninterrupted sleep is for emotional well-being.

Sleep Deprivation Impacts Positivity and Happiness

The research, conducted by a team at the University of California, Berkeley and published in the journal Sleep Health, found that losing as little as 30 minutes of sleep reduces positive emotional reactions and increases anxiety. According to senior author Matthew Walker:

“People radically underestimate the impact of sleep disruption on their mood. They hugely underestimate how devastated they’ll feel by small night-to-night changes in their sleep.”

Analyzing data from over 4,000 individuals across 25 studies, the researchers discovered that with just one night of disrupted sleep:

  • Positive emotional reactions were reduced by over 30%
  • Feelings of anxiety increased by over 30%

For study participant Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Arizona, the findings underscore how losing sleep generates a “double-whammy” of making us feel more unhappy in general and also dampens positive events in our lives:

“You’re less positive that day, and positive experiences are also degraded. It’s almost like sleep deprivation puts you into a state of mild depression.”

Vicious Cycle of Poor Sleep and Mental Health

The research also highlights how poor sleep and mental health issues can fuel each other, leading to a vicious cycle for those affected. Sleep disruptions are both a symptom and cause of conditions like depression and anxiety.

Not getting enough sleep stresses the body and brain, worsening underlying mood disorders. But also, conditions like depression can make it harder for people to fall and stay asleep.

According to study co-author Eti Ben Simon:

“The links go both ways. Poor sleep quality is thought to contribute to development of mood disorders, and mood disorders themselves often cause sleep disruptions.”

So improvements in one area could generate positive cascading benefits in the other. As Walker states:

“Prioritizing sleep may help both reduce the onset of mental health issues and also help recovery for those struggling with mood disorders.”

Why We Underestimate Sleep’s Importance

But if sleep is so vital for emotional resilience, why do so many of us deprioritize it? The researchers believe several factors play a role:

Lack of Immediate Feedback

Unlike hunger or thirst which trigger immediate discomfort, sleep deprivation causes more gradual and unseen neurological impairment. Walker notes:

“You can’t see what sleep is doing for you each and every night. It washes away the shortsightedness caused by lack of sleep.”

Focus on Quantity Over Quality

Many people focus exclusively on total sleep duration, but quality also plays a major role. Study author Simon explains:

“Even if you get your six or seven hours of sleep, if parts of that are not actual sleep it does not do the job.”

Factors like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can degrade sleep quality without necessarily reducing length.

Failure to Link Mood Changes to Sleep

Most people don’t automatically connect less joy or more irritability directly back to poor sleep, although the relationship is very strong.

“Most people if they have a bad night sleep, they expect to be groggy. They don’t necessarily expect to be grouchy,” says Grandner. “But the likelihood is that you will be.”

Immediate Impact on Healthcare Workers

The research has immediate relevance for healthcare workers like nurses and physicians who routinely suffer sleep loss due to shift work.

Author Walker warns that providers getting even minimal less sleep are unlikely to be operating at their peak emotionally:

“if you’re about to go for surgery, you don’t want a highly sleep-deprived doctor or nurse taking care of you.”

He hopes the findings will spur healthcare employers to take sleep needs more seriously, and better optimize shift timing and length.

What Comes Next

Moving forward, the research team plans additional sleep studies focused specifically on happier events, like vacations. They want to better understand if people derive less pleasure and reward from these positive life experiences when short on sleep.

More investigation is still needed, but Walker believes the existing decades of data clearly demonstrate that even small nightly sleep changes wield sizeable influence over waking emotional life:

“It’s time for us to appreciate sleep as an exquisite instrument of deciphering human mood.”

Tips for Protecting Sleep Health

Until broader societal and workplace changes emerge, individuals can still take meaningful steps to safeguard their sleep:

  • Mind Daytime Stress: Address sources of anxiety/depression using counseling, medication, meditation etc.
  • Ensure Conditions are Optimal: Block out excess light and sound in bedrooms for uninterrupted rest.
  • Limit Evening Stimulation: Reduce screen time and caffeine consumption in the hours before bed.
  • Track Sleep Data: Use apps and wearables to identify issues negatively impacting sleep quality or duration.

Prioritizing plentiful high quality sleep serves as a positive intervention that benefits both mental health and mood. Even if society at large continues underestimating its importance, individuals can choose to protect this nourishing resource.

Topic Key Takeaway
Impact of Lost Sleep Just 30 minutes less sleep markedly reduces positivity and heightens anxiety
Link to Mental Health Disrupted sleep worsens conditions like depression/anxiety which also degrade sleep – fueling a vicious cycle
Why We Underestimate Lack immediate feedback from sleep loss, focus narrowly on duration over quality, and fail to link mood changes back to sleep disruptions
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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