Sleep could be the great equalizer. It helps your body rest and your mind process and organize. And it might just help you process situations better when you’re awake, suggests research out of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Imagine a particularly difficult shift. How much you slept could determine how you react to the events around you. In this instance, a short amount of sleep could translate into you reacting more emotionally. And, on the flip side, not experiencing as much pleasure from the things that bring you joy.
What the study did
Researchers interviewed 1,982 Americans between the ages of 33-84 for eight days about the amount of sleep they had the previous night, as well as their daily stressors, positive events, and how these events affected them.
What they found is that the amount of sleep from the prior night was linked to how positively the subject was affected by the day’s events. However, sleep duration didn’t change the negative affect. Specifically, nights of shorter-than-usual sleep duration predicted more pronounced decreases in positive affect in response to daily stressors, as well as smaller increases in positive affect in response to daily positive events.
“When people experience something positive, such as getting a hug or spending time in nature, they typically feel happier that day,” said Nancy Sin, assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychology. “But we found that when a person sleeps less than their usual amount, they don’t have as much of a boost in positive emotions from their positive events.”
People also reported a number of stressful events in their daily lives, including arguments, social tensions, work and family stress, and being discriminated against. When people slept less than usual, they responded to these stressful events with a greater loss of positive emotions.
The link between sleep, emotion, and health
Previous research by Sin and others shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress elevates inflammatory markers which can have an unhealthful effect on overall health. But this isn’t a one-sided relationship. Earlier research, also conducted by Sin and her colleagues, found that daily positive experiences helped improve quality of sleep.
“A large body of research has shown that inadequate sleep increases the risk for mental disorders, chronic health conditions, and premature death. My study adds to this evidence by showing that even minor night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration can have consequences in how people respond to events in their daily lives,” Sin said in a prepared statement.
How to get a better sleep
All of the typical sleep hygiene should be in place for you no matter whether your shift has you climbing in bed during the evening or morning. Make sure your room is cool and dark. Limit exposure to screens prior to bed. Try to make your bed only for rest. Find ways to limit ambient noise and light.
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By making sleep a priority, it can help you protect your long-term health by lessening the distress you experience in your waking hours.