Sleep Impairment Can Lead to Increased Stress and Irritability

Lack of sleep can make anyone irritable. People who have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep tend to experience more mood swings and higher levels of negative affect than those who do not. Although increased stress has been linked to sleep impairment, it is unclear whether sleep deficits lead to increases in stress or whether stress leads to sleep problems. To get a better picture of the direction of this relationship, Jared D. Minkel of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania recently led a study that compared how 53 adults assigned to a sleep or no-sleep condition responded to moderately and extremely challenging cognitive tasks.

The goal was to determine if lack of sleep would increase stress responses on various levels of cognitive challenges. Minkel assigned half of the participants to a no-sleep condition, keeping them awake all night, while the other half received a full night of sleep. The following morning, the participants were given simple cognitive tasks and difficult cognitive tasks. Minkel found that those with no sleep were more easily agitated on the mildly challenging task than those who were fully rested. They experienced more anxiety, stress, and anger. However, when Minkel compared the emotional responses on the harder task, he found no differences in stress levels. In fact, he found that both groups had elevated stress responses.

The result of this study could be due to the fact the easier task was completed first and the combination and order of the tasks led to the similar stress responses on the second task. Also, even though the sleep-deprived group had higher rates of negative responses on the first task, they were not significant, except with respect to anger. Minkel believes that this finding sheds light on how sleep loss can affect everyday well-being. For instance, many people who have impaired sleep due to psychological problems, lifestyle, work schedules, or other factors may become easily overwhelmed when presented with mild stressors. “Stress often co-occurs with inadequate sleep duration, and both are believed to impact mood and emotion,” Minkel said. However, more work needs to be done to better understand how chronic sleep impairment, which is not uncommon, impacts overall quality of life in the general population.

Minkel, Jared D., Siobhan Banks, Oo Htaik, Marisa C. Moreta, Christopher W. Jones, Eleanor L. McGlinchey, Norah S. Simpson, and David F. Dinges. Sleep deprivation and stressors: Evidence for elevated negative affect in response to mild stressors when sleep deprived. Emotion 12.5 (2012): 1015-020. Print.

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  • Kerstin


    November 7th, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    I know that when I don’t get enough sleep I am seriously a force to be reckoned with, and not in a good way! Don’t mess with my sleep plesae and you will get a perfectly pleasant person most of the time. Interrupt that and there will be trouble, guaranteed.

  • harris


    November 7th, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    I generally stick to my schedule as I am in college and just cannot afford to miss class.but sometimes when sleep is sacrificed for some other activities or to be with friends I find that not only am I less productive the following day but am also easily irritated.can only imagine what happens to those that get less sleep on a regular basis.

  • kyle


    November 8th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    There are times when you think that you are getting a good night’s rest, but you don’t have any real idea about how many times you wake during the night from something like breathing problems!

    Go have a sleep test, I urge anyone who has problems sleeping and feeling irritable in the mornings to do this. You just don’t know the things that could be going on at night and how they could be affecting you and you don’t even know it.

  • VMB


    November 8th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    I have found that there is a certain minimum sleep time that each one of us needs in order to function optimally the next day.Think of it as giving rest to your car’s engine.

    If you run it continuously without a break it will overheat beyond a point.And the cooling down period varies for each one of us.And I think with all of us leading what may be considered chaotic lives,this sleep time is becoming something of a luxury,although in fact it is a necessity which is definitely necessary for our survival and well being.

  • s edward

    s edward

    November 9th, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    lack of sleep is a major problem no doubt. but for some of us it is beyond our control. insomnia can be worse than just lack of sleep. you literally feel powerless ecause you are just not able to fix the problem. definitely need to find newer techniques to help me :(

  • ree


    November 9th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    Funny how for a while there those people who could get by on just small amounts of sleep were looked on with amazement and awe. And now come to find out, that’s just killing them softly.
    I know the value of a good night’s sleep and have tried to impart that to the rest of my family with very little success.
    But you have to keep trying because I see now just how detrimental burning noth ends of the candle can be for your overall health. It really creates this perfect storm of an enviroment for sickness and illness to grow and thrive, and really I don’t have the time to deal with all of that.

  • Greg


    April 16th, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    What is the difference in Sleep Apnes and Chronic Sleep Impairment?

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