Lack of sleep reduces positive emotions

Lack of sleep reduces positive emotions

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How too little sleep affects our emotions

Reduced sleep causes people to develop fewer positive feelings. For example, in a recent study, participants felt less joy and enthusiasm when they slept less than normal.

The latest study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that reduced nighttime sleep has negative effects on positive feelings the next day. The results were published in the English-language journal “Sleep”.

Research was not done in the sleep laboratory

Most sleep research is done in laboratories, but the new study looked at participants who slept at home. These people initially spent seven nights in their own bed and slept as long as usual. A series of tests were carried out over three mornings. Afterwards, the participants slept two hours less than normal for three nights and the same tests were repeated on two mornings.

People's sleep patterns are different

All people have different sleep patterns. The purpose of letting the participants sleep at home was to make everything as close as possible to normal life, the team explains. During the sleep deprivation phase, the participants simply went to bed two hours later than normal. Still, they had to get up in their usual time.

Morning test of responsiveness

A test was performed about an hour and a half after getting up. Over a period of 14 minutes, the participants were shown 365 different pictures with random letters on a computer screen. If the picture did not contain the letter X, they were asked to press a key. If the picture contained an X, the participants did not have to do anything special.

So the responsiveness and accuracy were tested. The response time decreased when the participants suffered from sleep deprivation, but the error rate increased. It seems that people react faster to compensate for less concentration. However, this increases the error rate, explains the research group.

How did shorter sleep affect me over a longer period of time?

While the participants performed better and better each day they took the normal sleep test, every day they had poor sleep results in accuracy after a night of insufficient sleep. Sleep is known to be important for learning. It is possible that the observed results are related to this factor, the researchers suspect.

Questions about emotions had to be answered

In the second part of the test, the participants answered a questionnaire to identify 20 positive and negative emotions. There were no clear differences in negative emotions, but there were clear differences in positive emotions. After a night of reduced sleep, positive feelings were reduced. After three nights with less sleep, the positive emotions were reduced even more.

Less normal sleep than normal affects feelings

Less sleep does not cause more negative feelings to arise. Rather, a flattening of positive feelings seems to be the case. The researchers reported that less sleep than normal caused less joy, enthusiasm, attention and fulfillment.

Impact on Mental Health?

The results are quite interesting for general health. However, the study did not address the question of how long the lack of positive emotions persisted after sleep deprivation. The researchers are therefore already planning to examine the duration of this state of mind more closely.

Consequences of an irregular circadian rhythm

There are often reasons to go to bed later, but people affected usually have to get up early the next day and go to work or, for example, take the children to kindergarten. This helps people get too little sleep. The length of sleep is almost only part of the overall picture, it is also important when the people concerned went to bed. An irregular circadian rhythm can be worse than too little sleep, says study author Ingvild Saksvik-Lehouillier from the University of Science and Technology.

Adolescents are particularly at risk

Adolescents have a greater need for sleep and are a particularly vulnerable group. The use of the Internet and smartphones leads to many temptations, which is why adolescents go to bed too late. Still, they have to get up and go to school the next morning. Deprivation of sleep can quickly become a problem. Many adolescents have sleep problems, especially during the exam period.

Health effects of shift work

Long-term studies conducted among shift workers who slept too little over a long period of time showed serious negative health effects, including a significantly increased risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Signs of healthy sleeping habits

Sleep is individual. Not everyone has to sleep for seven and a half hours every night. Some people like to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, others love to get up early in the morning. The most important thing is how you feel. When you're in a good mood and awake when you get up, the signs are that your sleeping habits are working for you, Saksvik-Lehouillier adds. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Ingvild Saksvik-Lehouillier, Simen Berg Saksvik, Johanna Dahlberg, Tiril K Tanum, Heidi Ringen et al .: Mild to moderate partial sleep deprivation is associated with increased impulsivity and decreased positive affect in young adults, in Sleep (Posted Apr 19, 2020), Sleep

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