Sleep restriction alters physiological and emotional responses to emotion induction

Ilana S. Hairston, Mairav Cohen-Zion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New Findings: What is the central question of this study? The aim of the present study was to assess the effects of sleep restriction on self-report and autonomic responses to neutral and sad film clips. What is the main finding and its importance? Ratings of sadness and heart rate deceleration were greater while watching the sad clip, with no effect of sleep restriction, whereas heart rate variability and skin conductance were impacted by sleep restriction and, to a lesser extent, by film clips. The results suggest that autonomic function was adaptively altered by sleep restriction, in order to maintain a ‘normal’ response to emotional cues, despite mounting fatigue. Abstract: Habitual insufficient sleep has long-term health consequences via its impact on autonomic nervous system (ANS) function and on regulation of emotion. To our knowledge, the effects of insufficient sleep on emotion-induced ANS function have not been tested. The present study aimed to address this lacuna. Using an emotion induction procedure, the effects of sleep restriction on physiological responses to validated neutral and sad film clips were assessed in a two-by-two, pseudo-randomized, cross-over design. Thirty-one participants, aged 20–33 years, were assessed after sleeping for either 5 h (sleep restricted, SR) or 8 h (well rested, WR) per night, for three consecutive nights. Physiological measures included heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance response (SCR) and participants’ ratings of affect and fatigue. There was no effect of sleep conditions on self-reported negative affect, but watching the sad clip reduced self-reported fatigue in the SR condition. There was greater heart rate deceleration while watching sad relative to neutral clips, independent of the sleep condition. Sleep restriction increased heart rate variability measures, with no effect of emotion induction. There was an interaction of emotion induction with sleep condition for SCR, with more SCRs to sad relative to neutral clips in the WR condition, and the opposite effect in the SR condition. Combined, the results suggest that the ANS response to an emotional cue was altered by sleep restriction. The results suggest an adaptive ANS response to mild, chronic sleep restriction, resulting in constant heart rate response and self-reported experience across WR and SR conditions, despite mounting fatigue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2207-2215
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Experimental Physiology © 2020 The Physiological Society


  • autonomic system
  • sleep deprivation
  • vagal tone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Physiology


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