It’s common sense that lack of sleep makes you more irritable, more likely to react angrily to people and situations.
We see this clearly in young children. In the early stages of learning to moderate her reactions, a tired toddler will rub her eyes, cry inconsolably and fly into impressive tantrums at the slightest thing. My mum used to call it being over-tired.
Toddlers can get away with it; display the same reactions as an adult however and there are likely to be serious consequences!
It’s not only heightened feelings of irritability and anger that follow a lack of sleep. You can also feel more tearful, frustrated and overwhelmed. People describing these times of emotional vulnerability use phrases such as:
I just saw red
Something in me flipped
I’m on a very short fuse
It wouldn’t take much to push me over the edge
I lost it
I just snapped
Do any of these sound familiar?
When a toddler is tired, the caring parent will ensure that the child is given the opportunity to catch up on sleep as soon as possible. Adults however, often don’t respond so pragmatically.
You might try to ignore the symptoms, hoping things will right themselves soon. Or you might feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about losing your cool. You might know in your heart of hearts that you are behaving badly but are afraid to admit it, even to yourself.
All are completely understandable responses. Unfortunately, ignoring your symptoms probably won’t fix them.
Having these emotional reactions doesn’t mean you are a “bad” person. It’s just you are suffering from lack of sleep. Adults need a minimum of 7 hours a night, every night. Yet many people get by with 6 hours or less.
It’s not just common sense that sleep deprivation makes you more likely to experience anger, aggression and irritability. There’s a solid scientific basis for what we all know to be true. Imaging studies show that after a night of restricted sleep, the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers strong emotions, such as sadness, anger and hostility, is more reactive. There is also a loss in connectivity with the pre-frontal cortex. This area acts as an emotional regulator. When things are going well, these two brain centres work in balance. After a few nights of short sleep (5 hours or less) – or after just one night of no sleep – this balance is seriously disturbed.
Put simply, lack of sleep leads to loss of emotional control.
That’s not easy for those around you, at home and at work. They’ll likely be confused and upset, wondering where their normally reasonable and patient partner/work colleague/parent has gone.
It’s also very hard on you. You feel bad about the way things are. You’re doing your best but when you lack good quality sleep it’s very hard to get back in control.
Admitting you need to address your sleep problem is the first step.
Often, admitting it can come as a relief. The feelings and reactions that you thought might be a sign of a deeper problem are due to something that is completely fixable.
I know you might have given up hope of ever sleeping well, but believe me, in my experience it’s totally achievable in 99% of people. That’s why I do the work I do. It’s also why I’m launching my online Sleep Well Fundamentals course soon. In the meantime, make sure you’ve completed my 7 Day Better Sleep Challenge to start your journey to better sleep.