November 06, 2023 3 min read

For most people, happiness is the ultimate goal in life. But how exactly do we define happiness and — more importantly — how do we obtain it?

While it is hard to make a formal definition of happiness, happiness is generally defined as a subjective feeling of well-being, which encompasses several constructs [1]:

  • A predominance of positive emotions.
  • Having a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
  • Being generally satisfied with one’s life.

While happiness can depend on outside factors — like financial security, relationship satisfaction, and positive life experiences — research shows that biology also determines how happy we can be [2]. One biological factor that can determine your happiness level is sleep.

The Emotional Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

If you’ve ever experienced a sleepless night or multiple, you are familiar with the cranky mood that ensues. That sleep loss has a detrimental effect on mood has also been confirmed by years of research. For example, a study encompassing three large meta-analyses found the following effects of sleep deprivation on emotion and mood [3]: 

  • Losing sleep has a negative effect on mood, especially among younger people.
  • Sleep loss also blunts emotions and makes it harder to manage them.

Sleep loss also makes our brains focus on the negative according to a 2007 study published inCurrent Biology [4]. The study, which involved sleep-deprived and well-rested control subjects, examined brain reactivity to emotionally neutral to disturbing images. The results showed that the sleep-deprived group had a 60% greater amygdala activation to negative imagery. The amygdala is a structure in the brain involved in memory processing and negative emotions.

In other words, sleep deprivation can affect your happiness levels by rewiring your brain.

Can You Sleep Your Way to Happiness?

As explained in a piece by the American Psychological Association (APA), more sleep would make many people healthier, safer,and happier [5]! Besides increasing your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes, the APA explains that sleep research consistently shows that sleep deprivation makes one prone to depression. 

Studies that examined the link between sleep quality and happiness levels also show similar findings. One such study looked at data from over 64,000 Japanese adolescents [6]. What it found was that subjective happiness was strongly associated with sleep problems or lack thereof. 

A different study led by South Korean researchers found that losing sleep made the study subjects prone to zero-sum beliefs about happiness [7]. In comparison, those who had high-quality sleep reported greater life satisfaction and were less prone to zero-sum beliefs about life and happiness. 

Unfortunately, as the researchers in the aforementioned study note, many living in our competitive societies see sleep as a waste of time, making them sacrifice sleep for the sake of productivity and status-seeking. Such an attitude is more than likely to backfire since sleep is absolutely essential for well-being. In fact, it may be that one thing standing between you and happiness.


  1. Steptoe A. Happiness and Health.Annu Rev Public Health. 2019;40:339-359.doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040218-044150

  1. Dfarhud D, Malmir M, Khanahmadi M. Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article.Iran J Public Health. 2014;43(11):1468-1477.

  1. Tomaso CC, Johnson AB, Nelson TD. The effect of sleep deprivation and restriction on mood, emotion, and emotion regulation: three meta-analyses in one.Sleep. 2021;44(6):zsaa289.doi:10.1093/sleep/zsaa289

  1. Yoo SS, Gujar N, Hu P, Jolesz FA, Walker MP. The human emotional brain without sleep--a prefrontal amygdala disconnect.Curr Biol. 2007;17(20):R877-R878.doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.007

  1. More sleep would make us happier, healthier and safer. American Psychology Association. Date created: 2014.

  1. Otsuka Y, Kaneita Y, Itani O, et al. The relationship between subjective happiness and sleep problems in Japanese adolescents.Sleep Med. 2020;69:120-126.doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2020.01.008

  1. Shin JE, Kim JK. How a Good Sleep Predicts Life Satisfaction: The Role of Zero-Sum Beliefs About Happiness.Front Psychol. 2018;9:1589. Published 2018 Aug 28.doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01589

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