Our Sleep is Related to How We Feel

How are you feeling?

Emily Hokett
4 min readApr 1, 2023
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

We all know the feeling of getting through the day on little to no sleep. In a word, the aftereffects of poor sleep are unpleasant. Sleep can impact our emotions, including sadness, anxiety, and anger. Below, we’ll go over some interesting research on these emotional consequences of poor sleep.

Low mood is often linked with poor sleep

One of the most well-documented associations with sleep is with depression. Depressive symptoms include feeling sad, hopeless, and maintaining low mood for two weeks or more. Sleep disturbance is also included in the criteria for major depressive disorder.

One research study that investigates the impact of daytime light on sleep demonstrated that people who slept well reported lower depressive symptoms than those who slept poorly. Interestingly, research also shows that people who have been sleep deprived also demonstrate poorer memory consolidation of positive information.

Research in adolescents, adults, and rodents has shown that poor sleep, including sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality, may precede depressive symptoms. These findings support a link between poor sleep leading to depression.

Feelings of low mood, sadness, and depression have been consistently associated with poor quality sleep and low sleep duration. Improving sleep may also boost mood.

Sleep deprivation leads to anxious feelings

The way that we sleep impacts our brain activity and behavioral responses. When we don’t get enough sleep or when we sleep poorly, we may feel more jittery, jumpy, or anxious than when we are well-rested.

Research has demonstrated that brain activity changes in response to not having slept. In relation to anxiety, the amygdala (i.e., a brain structure that processes fear) shows higher activity when people are sleep deprived. Moreover, the connectivity between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex is weaker when people are sleep deprived as compared to when they are well rested. Since the cerebral cortex allows for judging, evaluating, and interpreting potentially dangerous stimuli, the lower connectivity between the amygdala and cortex suggests a dampened ability to process fear, resulting in higher experiences of anxiety.

Supporting this, an experimental research study showed that young adults who were sleep deprived reported more symptoms of anxiety the morning after as compared to the previous day when they slept normally. This research finding suggests that sleep deprivation may lead to feeling more anxious. In addition to sleep deprivation, low sleep quality also contributes to anxiety. A large research study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that people who report lower sleep qualityalso report higher symptoms of anxiety.

Taken together, sleep deprivation and low sleep quality are associated with feeling anxious. Thus, sleeping for enough time andsleeping well may counteract feelings of anxiety.

Sleep could help with anger management

We process events differently when we don’t sleep well. One emotional response to poor sleep is anger.

In one study, people who reported poor sleep quality also reported more feelings of anger and anger expression. In addition to higher general anger, they also reported lower feelings of solidarity with their family, friends, and spouse. In other words, people who slept poorly were less likely to feel connected with the people in their lives. Thus, our sleep duration and sleep quality may impact our anger expression and feelings of connectedness.

Poor sleep is often linked to feeling more negative emotions. Above, we discussed a few of them — sadness, anxiety, and anger.

We may not feel well after a night of poor sleep. When I don’t sleep well, I might feel malaise, nervousness, and like somewhat of a grouch, but I have learned, at the very least, to identify and ignore counterproductive, “tired thoughts” that often accompany those negative feelings. Acknowledging that we may experience a lower emotional state when we don’t sleep well might help with navigating those emotions and challenging them.


  • The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not serve as a proxy for medical advice. If you are consistently having trouble with your sleep, I suggest that you consult a trusted medical professional.
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Emily Hokett

healthy sleep advocate | writer, runner, doodler | learning time management skills to live a balanced, meaningful life