Sleep deprivation lowers our stress threshold

Speaking in public can be pretty stressful… but imagine you’re told without warning that you have to give a presentation in the next few minutes, then halfway through your prep time, your pen and paper are taken away; then you have to present for a full five minutes you in front of a panel that give you no feedback or encouragement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, next is a mental arithmetic test. Just reading about it makes us feel a little panicky …

Anyway, this is something called the Trier Social Stress Test, a genuine lab test to induce stress. In a recent study, this test was used to investigate how being sleep deprived affects our stress reactivity. Out of 26 participants, 12 were given one night of sleep deprivation while the other 14 slept according to a 9-hour sleep opportunity. The next day, between 5 and 5.30pm, all participants took part in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).

One of the elements measured by the TSST is our stress hormones, including cortisol, before and after the test. Both groups showed an increase in stress hormones. Furthermore, the sleep-deprived group showed greater cortisol levels prior to the test and in response to the stress test, compared with the well-rested control group.

So, when we’re sleep-deprived we’re more likely to get more stressed than our rested peers. Being in this ‘stress response’ can impact our judgement, the decisions we make and how we interact with others.

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