Missing just 1-2 hours of sleep ONE night makes you more anxious and depressed, ‘most comprehensive sleep study EVER’ finds

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  • Researchers found that sleep deprivation led to less joy and increased anxiety
  • Participants experienced these effects after losing just one to two hours of sleep 
  • READ MORE: Getting a good night’s sleep is more urgent than ever, finds study

Losing just one or two hours of sleep at night could increase your risk of depression and anxiety, a major study suggests. 

Researchers from the American Psychological Association looked at more than 150 studies conducted over 50 years that included participants whose sleep was interrupted for at least one night.  

Participants either stayed awake longer than normal or slept for a shorter amount of time. The team also measured the impact of lack of sleep on mood and feelings of anxiety and depression.

The team found that all of those types of sleep loss resulted in fewer positive emotions like joy and happiness – a sign of depression – and increased signs of anxiety.  

The findings shed light on the lasting impact of sleep deprivation, which affects more than 40 percent of Americans.

Researchers at the American Psychological Association found that missing just one to two hours of sleep increased symptoms of depression and anxiety

Sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, memory loss, diabetes, heart disease, heightened and unstable emotions, impaired ability to learn and a reduced immune response, leaving you vulnerable to disease

Sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, memory loss, diabetes, heart disease, heightened and unstable emotions, impaired ability to learn and a reduced immune response, leaving you vulnerable to disease

Dr Cara Palmer, lead study author and director of the Sleep and Development Lab at Montana State University, said: ‘In our largely sleep-deprived society, quantifying the effects of sleep loss on emotion is critical for promoting psychological health.’

‘This study represents the most comprehensive synthesis of experimental sleep and emotion research to date and provides strong evidence that periods of extended wakefulness, shortened sleep duration, and nighttime awakenings adversely influence human emotional functioning.’

The researchers looked at 154 studies conducted from 1966 to 2022. These included 5,715 participants ages seven to 79. The average age was 23, and the analysis included an equal amount of men and women. 

All of the participants lost sleep for at least one night. In some of the studies, participants were kept awake for an extended period of time. 

However, in others, they were allowed to sleep for a shorter amount of time than they normally would. 

The studies also examined how emotions changed with sleep deprivation, including self-reported mood, response to emotional stimuli, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

The team found that all measured types of sleep loss resulted in fewer positive emotions, such as joy, happiness, and contentment, which indicates depression.

Participants also experienced increased anxiety symptoms, including rapid heart rate and worry. 

The researchers were surprised to find that these changes occurred even in those who lost just an hour or two of sleep over one night.

‘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 of hours of sleep,’ Dr Palmer said. ‘We also found that sleep loss increased anxiety symptoms and blunted arousal in response to emotional stimuli.’

This could be because sleep deprivation causes the body to release higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which activates a fight-or-flight response in the nervous system.  

This response leads to physical symptoms of anxiety, including rapid breathing and high heart rate. 

Additionally, not getting enough sleep alters the amount of serotonin the brain produces, which regulates mood. A lack of serotonin can result in feelings of depression, including low happiness and diminished self-esteem. 

The researchers noted that participant age was a limitation, as the majority were young adults. They said that future research should include a more diverse age sample to understand how sleep deprivation affects people as they age.  

A lack of sleep has consistently been linked to chronic health problems such as sleep apnea, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.

It can also lead to insomnia, where someone routinely has trouble falling asleep.

Sleep deprivation is widespread across the US. 

According to 2020 data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveyed 400,000 Americans across the US, the most sleep-deprived states include Hawaii, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

Sleep deprivation in this dataset means less than seven hours per night.  

The states with the least sleep deprivation included Colorado, Minnesota, and South Dakota. 

Nationwide, data shows about 34 percent of adults are sleep-deprived — getting less than seven hours a night — from 18 to 64 years old.

This drops to 26 percent when adults are over 65 years old, but that is still more than a quarter of adults getting insufficient sleep.

Men are more likely than women to get insufficient sleep overall, with 33.3 percent saying they sleep less than seven hours a night compared to 32.1 percent of women.

‘Research has found that more than 30 percent of adults and up to 90 percent of teens don’t get enough sleep,’ Dr Palmer said. 

‘The implications of this research for individual and public health are considerable in a largely sleep-deprived society.’

‘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 study was published Thursday in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

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