Want to respond well to both positive and negative events? A recent study led by UBC psychologist Dr. Nancy Sin suggests that you should get more sleep.
The study found that the quality of people’s sleep affects their positive emotional responses to events in their lives. Most people have some sense that sleep is important for their well-being, but this study identified a specific effect of sleep on how people’s emotions change throughout the day.
“People who got longer [sleep] than usual … had less of a decrease in positive emotions the next day when they encountered something stressful,” said Jin Wen, a UBC psychology PhD student and co-author of the study. “When people had shorter than usual sleep, they had more of a decrease in positive emotions.”
This means that someone who receives good feedback at work or has a pleasant conversation with a friend may not feel the expected increase in positive emotions if they are low on sleep. Conversely, if someone receives poor feedback or has a difficult conversation and they are also low on sleep, the positive emotions they had prior to those events might take more of a hit.
The study utilizes data collected for a previous daily-experience study on 2,022 American individuals who reported information each day for eight days about their quality of sleep, events they had experienced that day and their emotional responses to those events. This approach allowed researchers to compare individuals to themselves by contrasting each person’s emotional responses on days they had good sleep with days they hadn’t.
Wen said that a benefit of this approach was that “it gave us more of an ability to potentially generalize because of how large the sample is to see how sleep impacts emotional reactivity to things the next day.”
This data allowed the researchers to determine that there is a difference in how sleep affects positive emotions, in comparison to how it impacts negative emotions.
“We found that shorter than usual sleep seemed to affect positive reactions more, but not negative emotional reactions,” said Wen.
Positive and negative emotions are broad, subjective categories, but positive emotions include feelings of calm, surprise and happiness, while negative emotions include fear and disappointment.
According to Wen, one reason why sleep affects positive reactions more than negative reactions “could be that receiving adequate sleep replenishes cognitive resources that allow people to fully experience or soak in the benefits of positive events.”
Negative emotions may be more essential to maintain than positive emotions because they help keep you alive. “People may maintain negative emotional responses when sleep deprived because of how closely tied negative emotional responses are to survival,” said Wen.
In addition to testing the effect of sleep on emotions, the researchers tested whether emotions felt throughout the day affect sleep quality that night. However, they didn’t find a significant relationship.
So what should you take away from this research? Get enough sleep if you want to respond to celebratory events with feelings of joy or stressful events without losing your calm.
“There’s been a lot of research, and … this study also supports the notion that getting adequate sleep every night is beneficial for … how you function day to day,” said Wen.