Individuals who sleep less than the recommended 8 hours per night are more likely to have negative repetitive thoughts, similar to those seen in depression and anxiety, according to research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.
“Repetitive negative thinking is often associated with disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms,” Jacob A. Nota, PhD, and Meredith E. Coles, PhD, both from the department of psychology at Binghamton University, New York, wrote. “Disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms may deal a ‘second hit’ to attentional control deficits.”
Nota and Coles studied whether sleep duration and circadian rhythm disruptions affect control of attention to negative stimuli. The researchers enrolled 52 adults with a wide range of habitual sleep durations and moderate- to high-levels of repetitive negative thinking, such as worry and rumination.
They conducted a free-viewing attention task in which they showed participants emotionally-evocative and neutral pictures while tracking their attention through eye movements. They also used self-reports and clinician-administered interviews to collect data about participants’ sleep.
Results showed that participants with a shorter habitual sleep duration spent more time looking at and had a more difficult time disengaging attention from emotionally negative images than neutral images. Disengaging attention from negative images compared with neutral images was also more difficult for participants with longer sleep-onset latencies. Sleep and attention for positive images were not significantly associated.
“We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to,” Coles said in a press release. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it.”
She noted that individuals with intrusive, repetitive thoughts are more susceptible to psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
“We realized over time that this might be important — this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things,” Coles said. “This is novel in that we’re exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts.” – by Alaina Tedesco
The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.