Sleep disruptions may worsen negative thinking
Disruptions in sleep negatively affect the top-down, rule-based control of attention to negative stimuli and are correlated with greater difficulty disengaging from negative images and more time looking at emotionally negative images, a recent study has found.
After subjecting 52 community-dwelling adults to a hybrid free-viewing and directed attention task, researchers found that those with shorter habitual sleep duration were significantly more likely to dwell on negative than on neutral stimuli during the free viewing phase of the task (p=0.01). All recruited participants had high levels of transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking (RNT).
The association was not attenuated by the adjustments for anxious arousal and anhedonic depression symptoms (p=0.01). Moreover, habitual sleep duration was not significantly correlated with the time looking at positive compared with neutral stimuli (p=0.39).
In the engage/disengage part of the task, researchers found that participants with longer sleep onset latency were significantly slower in disengaging from negative than from neutral stimuli even after adjusting for confounders (p=0.01 for both). Sleep onset latency was not associated with time to engage with negative stimuli (p=0.98).
In terms of sleep duration, those with shorter habitual sleep also had slower disengaging from negative than neutral stimuli even after all adjustments (p=0.02 for both). Engaging with negative stimuli was likewise unrelated to habitual sleep duration.
“The pattern of results in this study suggest that individuals with heightened levels of RNT and greater degrees of chronic sleep pressure demonstrate a specific effect on top-down direction of attention,” said researchers.
“Further study is needed to understand how sleep and circadian rhythm disruptions interact with the allocation of attention,” they added.