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In the News

Psychology In The News | Does Sleep Affect our Mood?

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

12th February 2024

In modern society, it can sometimes be hard to establish good sleep patterns. With social media meaning we can communicate with anyone, at any time and an unlimited range of viewing content, sleep habits, and evening routines are easy to neglect. Most teenagers need 9-9.5 hours of sleep per night (with a range of 7-11 hours) for their developing brains, although researchers suggest around 70% of young people do not get this much sleep (before we go on you can learn more about how you can improve your sleep using the NHS link at the end of this blog!).

However, are the consequences of a poor night's sleep something you should lose sleep about?

Fifty years of research on sleep and the impact it has on mood have been analysed in recently released research by Palmer et al (2023). The analysis incorporated 154 studies with over 5,700 participants. In the experiments, researchers disrupted sleep for one or more nights in one of three ways. In some studies, they kept participants awake overnight, in others, participants were allowed less sleep than typical, and in others, participants were frequently awakened. Emotional functioning was then measured via self-reports, emotional stimuli responses, and assessments of mood, depression, and anxiety.

Across most studies, all three sleep loss types decreased positive emotions like happiness while increasing anxiety symptoms like rapid heartbeat and worry. "This happened even after losing just an hour or two of sleep," Palmer said. "We also found sleep deprivation intensified anxiety responses to emotional triggers." Impacts on depression were less consistent.

The researchers believe that their findings highlight the need to establish policies that promote healthy sleep-wake patterns. Such policies could cover maximum work hours and shift scheduling for occupations prone to sleep loss like surgeons, truck drivers, and military personnel. Other policy areas could include pushing back early school start times, reassessing daylight savings time practices, and directing more investment into public education and healthcare initiatives that treat quality sleep as a priority for wellbeing. Implementing changes like these can help protect populations from the emotional risks linked to widespread sleep deprivation.

In addition, several avenues were identified for future investigation. These include studying the cumulative impacts of sleep loss over multiple nights, identifying individual risk factors that might make some people more susceptible to emotional disruption, and exploring whether cultural differences exist in the effects of sleep deprivation since most current research has been limited to Western populations in the U.S. and Europe. Examining these unanswered questions can expand our understanding of how prolonged or recurrent sleep deficiency impairs human emotional functioning.

ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS!

  1. Calculate the range of recommended sleep for teenagers.
  2. This research was a meta-analysis, what is a meta-analysis?
  3. The majority of the 154 studies took place in the USA and Europe, why might this be a problem when generalising the findings to other people?
  4. What ethical issues might arise with research into sleep disruption?
  5. What practical application could you introduce based on the policies that the researchers suggest?

References:

Cara A. Palmer, Joanne L. Bower, Kit W. Cho, Michelle A. Clementi, Simon Lau, Benjamin Oosterhoff, Candice A. Alfano (2023) Sleep loss and emotion: A systematic review and meta-analysis of over 50 years of experimental research. Psychological Bulletin Advance Online Publication https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLan... (accessed 8.1.24)

NHS How to sleep well for teenagers: https://www.evelinalondon.nhs.... (accessed 8.1.24)

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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