Sleep loss makes one angry and unhappy

Without realistic targets and priorities, there is a tendency for people to take up too many tasks while aiming at accomplishing them to no avail. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As 2018 comes to an end, many Kenyans are taking advantage of the holiday season, as is usually the case, to reflect on their lives and come up with resolutions for the New Year.

For most people, good health and happiness usually rank high among their novel year wishes. However, attaining these goals requires a work-life balance that many Kenyans, especially the working class usually grapple with.

The high cost of living coupled with demanding work schedules and unending traffic jams make many people to arrive home late, hence having limited time for sleep (less than the recommended seven and nine hours daily).

While this might seem as a harmless habit since a majority of Kenyans may already be used to it, health experts caution that insufficient sleep is robbing affected individuals of the good health and happiness they crave.

A new study conducted by the US based Iowa State University has found that losing just a couple hours of sleep at night makes people angrier, especially during frustrating situations.


The research, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, is one of the first to provide evidence that sleep loss causes anger.

The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated changes in body processes that arise from persistent anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body.

Some of the short and long-term health effects include constant headaches, high blood pressure, heart attacks, digestion problems, abdominal pain, strokes and skin problems such as eczema.

Previous studies had shown a link between sleep and anger. But it was unclear whether the sleep loss was to blame for the anger or if the latter was responsible for the disrupted sleep.

The new research answers those questions and provides new insight on people’s ability to adjust to irritating conditions when tired.

"Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions such as 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," said Zlatan Krizan, the lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

Study participants were randomly split into two groups. In the first one, people maintained their normal sleep routine (averaging almost seven hours. However, sleep hours for the second group were restricted by two to four hours each night for two days.

To measure anger, the researchers had participants come to a laboratory - 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). 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."

According to said Krizan, sleep loss increases negative emotions, such as anxiety and sadness. It also decreases positive emotions, such as happiness and enthusiasm. “We found sleep loss to uniquely impact anger, and not just result from feeling more negative in that moment.”

To attain a work life balance, it is advisable for people to set manageable goals each day, identify priorities and be efficient with their work time.

Idling in the office or chatting over long periods with colleagues at work robs people of valuable time that could have been used to finish pending tasks.

Without realistic targets and priorities, there is a tendency for people to take up too many tasks while aiming at accomplishing them to no avail. This leads to burn out which eventually leads to decreased productivity at work.

Effective communication and honest conversations with bosses or fellow colleagues about the scope of work one can handle also helps to lessen the work burden in many organisations.

In addition, it is important to have an exercise regime as this helps to decongest the brain and take the mind off work. Above all, exercise is a major contributor to good sleep.

Where all remedies have failed and employees feel persistently overwhelmed, it is important to take a break and seek help from mental health professionals since this could be a sign of a much bigger problem that can lead to depression and other mental conditions.