An exhaustive review of sleep research spanning five decades underscores the importance of getting your Zzzzzs.

Sleep loss undermines emotional functioning and increases a person’s risk for anxiety and depression, the study found. It also takes a toll on positive emotions like joy, happiness and contentment.  

“In our largely sleep-deprived society, quantifying the effects of sleep loss on emotion is critical for promoting psychological health,” said lead author Cara Palma, director of the Sleep and Development Lab at Montana State University in Bozeman. “This study … provides strong evidence that periods of extended wakefulness, shortened sleep duration, and nighttime awakenings adversely influence human emotional functioning.”

For the study, Palma’s team analyzed data from 154 studies that included more than 5,700 people. 

In every study, participants’ sleep was disrupted for one night or more. Some kept participants awake for an extended period. Some allowed less-than-typical amounts of shuteye, and others awakened participants periodically throughout the night. Each also looked at one emotional measure, such as self-reported mood or measures of anxiety and depression.

All three types of sleep loss took a toll on positive emotions and increased anxiety symptoms such as worry and rapid heart rate. 

“This occurred even after short periods of sleep loss, like staying up an hour or two later than usual or after losing just a few hours of sleep,” Palmer said in an American Psychological Association news release. “We also found that sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli.”

Researchers said findings for depression symptoms and emotions such as sadness, worry and stress were inconsistent and smaller.

One limitation of the study is that a majority of participants were young — average age 23. Future study should seek to learn more about how sleep deprivation affects people at different stages of life, researchers said.

Other avenues of inquiry might include examining why some people are more vulnerable than others to the effects of sleep loss and the effects of sleep loss across different cultures. Most of the research in the current review was conducted in the U.S. and Europe.

More than 30% of adults and up to 90% of teens 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,” she said. “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 against the risks to daytime function and well-being.”

The findings were published Dec. 21 in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

More information

There’s more about sleep deprivation and deficiency at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Dec. 21, 2023