does lack of sleep cause anger

Does Lack of Sleep Cause Anger? Study Says Yes

Does lack of sleep cause anger? New research shows that losing just a couple of hours of sleep can leave you with a short emotional fuse. The consequential anger can make it more difficult to deal with frustrating or annoying situations. 

How do sleep and negative emotions affect each other?

Many studies have shown a correlation between sleep and anger. However, the question remained about whether sleep loss caused negative emotions 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,” Krizan said.

To prove Krizan’s hypothesis, study participants were randomly split into two groups: one group was asked to maintain their normal sleep routine while the second restricted their sleep by two to four hours each night for two nights. This difference reflected the sleep loss many people experience in everyday life, Krizan said.

Measuring how lack of sleep affects anger

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 answer questions 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 can increase negative emotions, such as anxiety and sadness, while it decreases positive emotions, such as happiness and enthusiasm. Krizan and Hisler measured these effects to better understand the relationship between sleep, anger, and emotions.

Krizan says they found sleep loss to uniquely impact anger. The researchers also tested whether subjective sleepiness explained intense feelings of anger. Sleepiness accounted for 50% of sleep restriction’s effect on anger, suggesting individuals’ sense of sleepiness may point to whether they are likely to become angered, Krizan said.

Results outside of the lab

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.

How anger can affect intimate relationships

It’s important to understand the underlying causes of anger not just because it can have negative effects on your personal health, but because it can affect your intimate relationships as well. Although anger and other negative emotions are natural and bound to happen between partners or spouses, they can lead to the development of unhealthy patterns. If nothing is done to manage it, this situation can quickly escalate and have serious consequences on your relationship and family.

But how do you know if anger has become or is becoming an issue in your relationship? Ask the following questions about yourself and your partner:

  • Does either of you have an outsized reaction of anger to mild frustration or irritation?
  • Do you feel guilt or regret about something you said or did in anger? 
  • Have you or your partner experienced serious consequences following an angry outburst, such as lawsuits, property damage, fights, etc.?
  • Do your family and friends express concern and suggest getting help?
  • Are you living with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, gastrointestinal difficulties, or anxiety?

Anger issues caused by lack of sleep or any other reason can be difficult to deal with, but couples counseling can help.

Is Anger Affecting Your Relationship? Couples Counseling in Orange County Can Help

So, does lack of sleep cause anger? his study shows that sleep is incredibly important – for your health and the wellness of your personal relationships. Make an appointment with us today to learn more.

Arguing with your spouse may not be worth the effect it has on your health, but avoiding an argument may be easier said than done. If you need assistance with issues that may be causing arguments and friction in your relationship, couples counseling can help you find a way to work with your partner to get things back on track.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW, offers couples counseling in Orange County, CA for couples at any stage in their relationship. Her approach provides a safe environment to open and honestly share thoughts and emotions. Through developing a positive, therapeutic relationship, you and your partner can interpret what is going on, both in your life and in the session, creating a better awareness within your relationship. Contact Jennifer De Francisco by calling (949) 251-8797 or make an appointment online.

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

Source: Iowa State University

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