Sleep deprivation can stop you feeling positive, according to research

A few restless nights can leave you feeling worse than tired

We’re all familiar with a bad night’s sleep. When we struggle to drift off, or find ourselves waking frequently throughout the night, it can have a snowball effect on our ability to function the next day. From excessive tiredness to heightened irritability, the impact of sleep deprivation is something many of us have experienced multiple times.

But it could be that the impact goes further than previously thought. New research suggests that tiredness is the least of our worries when it comes to a lack of sleep, as researchers have explored a link between sleep deprivation and stifled positive emotions.

We’re going to take a closer look at this fresh research, exploring what these results might mean for the importance of getting a good night’s rest. We’ll also be sharing some of our top sleep tips to ensure that you can rest easy when your head hits the pillow. Let’s take a look.

The study

This new study set out to explore the impact of going to bed two hours later than usual, but getting up at the usual time. The results showed that not only do people become more impulsive and prone to mistakes the following day, but that they also experienced a flattening effect of normally positive feelings and sensations.

The research, published in the journal Sleep, tracked 52 healthy adults aged between 18 and 35 over the course of 11 days. Participants were asked to wear motion sensors while they slept and keep a sleep diary every morning. After maintaining normal sleep habits for seven days, participants went to bed two hours later for the last three nights of the study, but woke up at their regular time.

On five of the 11 days, participants were also asked to perform a test at the lab at around 9am. The results showed that participants were more impulsive and made more mistakes on the mornings after the three late nights.

Not only that, but participants also experienced significant changes in their emotional states.

Associate Professor of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and leader of the research, Ingvild Saksvik-Lehouillier, explained:

“We didn’t find clear differences when it comes to the negative emotions, but there were marked differences for the positive ones. Positive feelings scored worse after just one night of reduced sleep and dropped even more after three nights.”

According to Saksvik-Lehouillier, participants “felt less joy, enthusiasm , attention and fulfilment.”

Researchers concluded that staying up late on work or school nights could impair people’s ability to manage stress and cope with negative life events.

Understanding the importance of sleep for our health

So why is this kind of research important? Because our relationship with sleep remains turbulent. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting between seven and nine hours sleep a night, yet research by Aviva suggests that UK adults sleep for an average of just six hours per night.

The Office of National Statistics reports that as many as 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights, with almost a third (31%) saying they have insomnia.

The link between sleep and our health is significant, well known and well documented. Sleep plays an important role in your physical health, as it is involved in healing and repairing your body, including your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure, among other serious health concerns.

But sleeplessness can also impact your mental health. As well as making us feel less energetic, the mental health charity Mind reports that sleep deprivation also makes us more likely to feel anxious, depressed or even suicidal. We’re also more likely to feel lonely or isolated after poor sleep, and irritability, lack of concentration and paranoia are also more common.

Improving your sleep quality

Evidence such as this really highlights the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, and a few key lifestyle changes can improve your ability to rest easy come bedtime.

One of the most important steps to healthy sleep is to give yourself a set bedtime and waking up time every day that you can stick to, even on the weekends. Avoid bright screens like smartphones in the hour leading up to bedtime, and instead engage in a more relaxing activity such as meditation or reading.

What we eat and drink can also impact our sleep. Enjoy a balanced diet throughout the day, and avoid the temptation to sneak in a midnight snack. You should also avoid coffee in the evenings, and avoid alcohol too. A nightcap might make it easier to fall asleep, but it will also hinder the quality of sleep you get.

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