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Sleep Loss Intensifies Anger When Frustrated

Sleep Loss Can Hike Anger When Frustrated

New research shows that losing just a couple hours of sleep at night can leave you with a short fuse. That anger in turn can make  it more difficult to deal with frustrating or annoying circumstances.

Other studies have shown a link between sleep and anger, but questions remained about whether sleep loss was to blame or if anger was responsible for disrupted sleep, said Dr. Zlatan Krizan, professor of psychology at Iowa State.

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions – an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog – sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time. No one has shown this before,” Krizan said.

Study participants were randomly split into two groups: one maintained their normal sleep routine and the second restricted their sleep by two to four hours each night for two nights. Those who maintained averaged almost seven hours of sleep a night, while the restricted group got about four and a half hours each night. The difference reflects sleep loss we regularly experience in everyday life, Krizan said.

To measure anger, Krizan and Garrett Hisler, an ISU doctoral student in psychology, had participants come to the lab – before and after the sleep manipulation – to rate different products while listening to brown noise (similar to the sound of spraying water) or more aversive white noise (similar to a static signal).

Krizan says the purpose was to create uncomfortable conditions, which tend to provoke anger.

“In general, anger was substantially higher for those who were sleep restricted,” Krizan said.

“We manipulated how annoying the noise was during the task and as expected, people reported more anger when the noise was more unpleasant. When sleep was restricted, people reported even more anger, regardless of the noise.”

It is well established that sleep loss increases negative emotions, such as anxiety and sadness, and decreases positive emotions, such as happiness and enthusiasm, Krizan said. He and Hisler measured these effects to more generally understand the relationship between sleep, anger and emotions.

Krizan says they found sleep loss to uniquely impact anger, and not just result from feeling more negative in that moment.

The researchers also tested whether subjective sleepiness explained more intense feelings of anger. Sleepiness accounted for 50 percent of the experimental effect of sleep restriction on anger, suggesting individuals’ sense of sleepiness may point to whether they are likely to become angered, Krizan said.

To demonstrate whether the experimental evidence in the lab extends to daily life, Krizan and Anthony Miller, an ISU doctoral student, are working on a separate study analyzing data from 200 college students who kept a sleep diary for a month. Krizan says each day students recorded their sleep and rated feelings of anger.

The initial results show students consistently reported more anger than what is typical for them on days when they got less sleep than usual.

Based on the results, Krizan and Miller are now collecting data to test if sleep loss causes actual aggressive behavior toward others.

The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Source: Iowa State University

Sleep Loss Can Hike Anger When Frustrated

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep Loss Can Hike Anger When Frustrated. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/12/12/sleep-loss-can-hike-anger-when-frustrated/140763.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Dec 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Dec 2018
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