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How Too Little Sleep Can Increase Negative Emotions

October 14, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — sleepdunwoodyteam @ 1:10 pm
young girl looking grumpy

Have you been feeling irritable, frustrated, angry, or stressed lately? These emotions are not surprising at all, as many have faced a long and difficult year. What’s the cure? 

While remedying negative emotions looks different for each person, some good old-fashioned sleep may be just what the doctor ordered. Effective as both a short- and long-term method for naturally improving mood, sleep is necessary for emotional stability; without it, you’re at increased risk for negative emotions and outbursts that may affect all aspects of your life. Learn more about the specific negative emotions that come out when sleep is lacking.

The Negative Feelings Associated with Poor Sleep


Anger is one of the first emotions to be amplified when you’re missing your zzz’s. 

One recent study set out to assess anger levels in sleep-deprived individuals. Participants were asked to either keep their regular sleep schedule or limit their sleep by approximately five hours across two nights. Their anger was then assessed in response to annoying noise.

They found that well-rested people adapted to the noise and reported less anger over the next two days, while those who had their sleep restricted exhibited more anger in response to aversive noise, “suggesting that losing sleep undermined emotional adaptation to frustrating circumstances.”

Pretty self-explanatory, right? Who hasn’t experienced more irritability after a night of poor sleep? The next emotion may be more shocking to you, though. 


Scientists have found that sleep deprivation increases our tendency to worry about an event or situation in the future (called anticipatory anxiety), and this is particularly true for “innate worriers,” or those who are naturally worrisome and more likely to develop anxiety disorders.

In one study, the brains of 18 participants were scanned as they viewed images first after a good night’s rest, then after a night of poor sleep. The images were either neutral, disturbing, or switched between both.

After the night of poor sleep, individuals waiting for either a disturbing image or an innocuous one had increased activity in the emotional centers of the brain. The amplifying impact of a lack of sleep was most intense for those who were already innately anxious to begin with.

Who needs more worry right now? If you’re feeling increased stress and anxiety, try implementing these sleep hygiene tips to potentially get your mood under control. 

An Overall Decrease in Positive Emotions

Not only are you likely to experience more negative emotions from poor sleep, but happy moments won’t make you feel as good. One study found that when people experience positive things after a night of poor sleep, they enjoy less of a boost from that event.

Another study assessed the moods of participants after three consecutive nights of forced awakenings (meaning the researchers intentionally woke up the participants to disrupt their sleep). The group experiencing forced awakenings was compared to two control groups: a group that had their sleep restricted and a group that was allowed to sleep normally. The group that had their sleep restricted had the same overall amount of sleep as the forced awakenings group; they simply experienced uninterrupted sleep as opposed to interrupted sleep.

The study found that forced awakenings had a worse effect on positive mood than those who experienced restricted sleep. It proved that partial sleep loss from disrupted sleep is more harmful to positive mood than partial sleep loss from delaying bedtime. These findings are particularly worrying for anyone with sleep apnea, a condition hallmarked by constant micro-awakenings throughout the night.

Implications for Sleep Apnea Sufferers

Those with sleep apnea experience disrupted sleep on a frequent basis. Some experience cessations in breathing, or apneas, more than 30 times an hour. Apneas occur when oral tissue in the throat relaxes during sleep and falls back into the airway, blocking airflow. This blockage during sleep can happen for all kinds of common reasons, from being older age to being overweight or obese. It can even be due to hereditary anatomy in the mouth or throat. Whatever the reason, sleep apnea is extremely common, with an estimated 22 million Americans suffering from the disorder and up to 80% of cases remaining undiagnosed. There are many health concerns associated with sleep apnea, and as we’ve read today, the risk for worse mood is a primary one. 

How to Get Help

If you constantly find yourself in a “funk” and experience telltale sleep apnea symptoms (snoring every night, frequent exhaustion, waking up out of breath/gasping), getting your sleep under control may be just what is needed to restore healthy emotional balance. If you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnea and you’d like to take the first step toward improved sleep, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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