Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation (Research-Backed)
Sleep deprivation has an effect on both our mental and physical states.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation typically causes psychological effects such as mood changes, impaired concentration, heightened suggestibility, and even hallucinations in extreme cases.
There's even evidence that suggests that the effects of sleep deprivation on driving are worse than alcohol.
We’re going to quickly review that research in this short post.
Research on the Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Most studies that have looked at this topic have subjects stay up overnight (a total of a bit over 24 hours awake).
There are 2 common psychological side effects that we’ll be looking at.
Unfortunately there aren’t many longer term studies on partial sleep deprivation (i.e. only sleeping a few hours a night). It might seem reasonable to expect the effects to be the same, but they might not be.
Increased Pain and Temperature Sensitivity
It turns out that a lack of sleep could make you feel cold, or hot, or just in more pain than usual.
A study with 14 healthy subjects tested the effects of a night of total sleep deprivation on sensitivity to temperature and paint (1).
There was a significant increase to heat, cold, blunt pressure, and mechanical pain.
Other research has found similar results showing that sleep deprivation impairs thermoregulation (2).
The other big psychological effect of sleep deprivation is that it makes the mood of people less stable.
Research shows that (3):
Sleep deprivation results in poor memorizing, schematic thinking, which yields wrong decisions, and emotional disturbances such as deteriorated interpersonal responses and increased aggressiveness
Other studies have similarly shown that people who get enough sleep are less likely to be aggressive and have emotional outbursts as a result of anger or frustration (4).
This side effect is consistent in both male and female subjects in the majority of research.
Psychological Side Effects of Extreme Sleep Deprivation
I think it’s also interesting to see what happens when people are sleep deprived for a longer period of time (i.e. multiple all-nighters).
One study back in 1968 had 4 healthy young men undergo 205 hours of continuous sleep deprivation (5).
After 3 days, subjects were unable to read for a sustained period of time or maintain a written diary. There was also an increase in general misperceptions.
In addition, scores on scales for mania and psychasthenia both increased.
Finally, three of the subjects experienced hallucinations for at least a brief period of time.
Summary: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Mind
Aside from affecting cognitive performance on certain tasks, research shows that sleep deprivation has psychological effects including increased pain sensitivity and greater mood swings.
These mood changes are typically negative, as someone who is sleep deprived is more likely to be more angry, frustrated, and irritated than any positive emotion.
While most studies conducted have subjects undergo total sleep deprivation, it’s possible that regular nights of short sleep could have similar consequences.
- One night of total sleep deprivation promotes a state of generalized hyperalgesia
- Sleep function, with particular reference to sleep deprivation
- Consequences of sleep deprivation
- The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?
- The Psychological Effects of 205 Hours of Sleep Deprivation
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