Sleep restriction alters children’s positive emotional responses but effects are moderated by anxiety

Candice A. Alfano, Jo Bower, Allison Harvey, Deborah Beidel, Carla Sharp, Cara A. Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: An abundance of cross-sectional research links inadequate sleep with poor emotional health, but experimental studies in children are rare. Further, the impact of sleep loss is not uniform across individuals and pre-existing anxiety might potentiate the effects of poor sleep on children’s emotional functioning. Methods: A sample of 53 children (7–11 years, M = 9.0; 56% female) completed multimodal, assessments in the laboratory when rested and after two nights of sleep restriction (7 and 6 hr in bed, respectively). Sleep was monitored with polysomnography and actigraphy. Subjective reports of affect and arousal, psychophysiological reactivity and regulation, and objective emotional expression were examined during two emotional processing tasks, including one where children were asked to suppress their emotional responses. Results: After sleep restriction, deleterious alterations were observed in children’s affect, emotional arousal, facial expressions, and emotion regulation. These effects were primarily detected in response to positive emotional stimuli. The presence of anxiety symptoms moderated most alterations in emotional processing observed after sleep restriction. Conclusions: Results suggest inadequate sleep preferentially impacts positive compared to negative emotion in prepubertal children and that pre-existing anxiety symptoms amplify these effects. Implications for children’s everyday socioemotional lives and long-term affective risk are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1150-1159
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number10
Early online date4 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Sleep
  • anxiety
  • emotion
  • emotional expression
  • emotional regulation

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