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Better Sleep Can Improve Stress Response and Increase Positivity, Study Shows

A Black woman with short, gray hair is stretching in bed and smiling.
Getting more sleep could help you appreciate the positives more, new study finds.

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Key Takeaways

  • Getting more sleep than you normally would may help you appreciate positive events more, a new study finds.
  • It adds to previous research that shows how sleep can impact our emotions, both the next day and in the long term.
  • Appreciating the positives more and having more positive experiences can help protect your health, researchers say.

It's time to set that early bedtime you've been putting off: A new study found that when people sleep longer than usual, they enjoy positive experiences more.

The research, published in the American Psychological Association's Health Psychology, builds on previous research about how sleep impacts both our physical health and our emotional well-being. Much of sleep research has focused on the negative impacts of not getting enough sleep. But the new study adds to the growing body of research about the positive impacts of getting more sleep.

"After a person has had more sleep than usual, then they're much more likely to perhaps create opportunities where they might experience something positive," Nancy Sin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who led the study, tells Verywell. Getting more sleep—and having more positive experiences as a result—could have health benefits.

How Sleep Impacts Our Emotions

A good night's sleep can do wonders for how we feel the next day. Similarly, a bad night's sleep can negatively impact how our brain functions and how we process emotions. Previous research has found that sleep debt, or not getting adequate sleep for multiple days in a row, is associated with irritability and aggression. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

Nancy Sin, PhD

We found that when people slept longer than their usual amount, then the next day they tended to derive more joy from positive experiences.

— Nancy Sin, PhD

Much of the research on how sleep affects people's emotions the next day has been conducted in laboratories, Sin says. Instead, she and colleagues conducted phone interviews with nearly 2,000 people for eight days in a row about how much sleep they got the night before, and how they reacted to daily stressors and positive experiences the following day.

"Based on that information, we found that when people slept longer than their own usual amount, then the next day they tended to derive more joy from positive experiences," Sin says. "And they were able to maintain their positive emotions, even when they encountered something stressful." Participants were also more likely to interpret ordinary activities like taking a walk outside or getting a hug, as events that were very positive.

The study builds on previous research by demonstrating how sleep influences our day-to-day functioning, says Jin Wen, a co-author of the study and doctoral student in health psychology at the University of British Columbia. "Some experimental studies have found that sleep deprivation affects positive emotion systems in your brain more than negative emotion systems," he says. "Our study extends these findings to suggest that the impacts of sleep on positive emotions can also be observed in daily life."

What This Means For Your Health

These findings are important, Sin says, noting her previous research on how daily positive events can promote well-being. "People who tend to lose positive emotions in the face of stress are at greater risk for health problems," she says. Conversely, she's also found that people who get more sleep than usual are more likely to create more positive opportunities for themselves.

It's well-established that stress and negative emotions are bad for your health, but more research is now focusing on how positive events can help protect your health. "There's also been a lot of work that I've done previously showing that people who have more positive events, they tend to have lower levels of inflammation," Sim says. "They have these healthier patterns of diurnal cortisol, so their stress hormones show a healthier pattern."

Jin Wen, doctoral student

Given that we are currently living through times of greater stress and uncertainty, I believe that it may be more essential for people to consistently get good sleep in order to not let it impact their daily emotional functioning.

— Jin Wen, doctoral student

Additionally, Wen says the most surprising finding from the study was that people living with chronic conditions appeared to benefit more from getting more sleep. "In particular, when they were well-rested, they had greater increases in positive emotions when they encountered positive events," he says.

What You Can Do

More research is finding that sleep seems to be a "strong driver" of how we're going to behave and how we'll feel the next day, Sin says. "I think this really speaks to the importance of sleep for promoting well-being."

As a result, one of the most important takeaways of the study is the importance of consistently getting adequate sleep—whatever adequate means for you, Wen says. Experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that adults get an average of seven or more hours of sleep on a regular basis to avoid health problems.

Hours slept isn't the only factor that affects sleep quality. Sleep researchers use an acronym, "SATED," to characterize five aspects of good sleep, Wen explains:

  • Satisfaction: How satisfied are you with your sleep?
  • Alertness: How refreshed or alert do you feel during the day?
  • Timing: Do you have a consistent bedtime and wake time?
  • Efficiency: How much time in bed is spent sleeping?
  • Duration: Did you get enough sleep?

"Given that we are currently living through times of greater stress and uncertainty, I believe that it may be more essential for people to consistently get good sleep in order to not let it impact their daily emotional functioning," Wen says. "I think it is not only important for people to recognize how sleep impacts their daily emotional functioning, but also prioritize getting good sleep—which could mean committing to a consistent bedtime and waketime or setting a period of time before bed to start 'winding down.'"

What This Means For You

Yes, it can be hard to set a consistent bedtime, especially if you work late, are a parent or guardian to kids, or if you suffer from chronic insomnia or other conditions that affect sleep.

But doing your best to get as much sleep as you can has both mental and physical health benefits. This research shows that not only does more sleep just help you feel better, but it also helps you appreciate the little things.

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Article Sources
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