Studies show link between sleep loss and sensitivity to stress
Research on insomnia suggests sleep deprivation could make us more sensitive to stressors. (©Vlue/shutterstock.com)
Published Friday, March 27, 2015 9:11AM EDT
Stressful situations can elicit an emotional response, which could snowball with sleep loss, according to a new book summarizing many studies.
The recently published book is called "Sleep and Affect: Assessment, Theory and Clinical Implications."
"We saw that if a person lost a night of sleep they responded with more emotion to a laboratory 'stressor,'" says Matthew T. Feldner, a professor of psychology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. "This finding extended previous work that had linked chronic sleep loss to anxiety and mood disorders."
Certain components of emotion seem particularly linked to sleep, says Dr. Felder.
"What we call 'stressors' tend to be more emotionally arousing for people who haven't slept well, and emotional arousal also appears to interfere with sleep quality," he says.
Working with health science specialist Kimberly A. Babson, Dr. Felder and his team built on her previous sleep and affect studies.
Another recent study offers evidence of the connection between stressors, emotions and insomnia yet indicates that coping mechanisms could be more variable than previously thought.
"Our study is among the first to show that it's not the number of stressors, but your reaction to them that determines the likelihood of experiencing insomnia," says lead author Vivek Pillai, PhD, research fellow at the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.
In the study, which was published in the journal Sleep, Dr. Pillai and his team worked with 2,892 individuals without a history of insomnia.
"While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it's what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia," says Dr. Pillai.
At the beginning of the study, participants reported the stressful events that had befallen them over the past year, such as divorce, serious illness and major financial problems.
The research identified their coping mechanisms by means of a questionnaire, and a follow-up one year later identified several participants who became beleaguered by insomnia disorder as a result of their stress.
Insomnia disorder, in this case, meant they had problems sleeping three nights per week for at least one month.
"This study is an important reminder that stressful events and other major life changes often cause insomnia," said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler.
Like the book, the study identifies potential targets for therapeutic interventions geared towards shifting patients' coping mechanisms.