Nursing staff who sleep less than eight hours a night are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety, suggests US research. Sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression, according to a study by Binghamton University.
“We’re exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes”
Researchers assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts – for example worry and rumination.
The 52 participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements.
The study, published in Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, found regular sleep disruptions were associated with difficulty in shifting attention away from negative information.
This may mean that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts persist and interfere with people’s lives, suggested the study authors Professor Meredith Coles and Jacob Nota.
Professor Coles said: “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.
“While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it,” she added.
These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, she suggested.
“We realised over time that this might be important – this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things,” said Professor Coles.
She added: “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.”
The researchers said they were further exploring their findings, evaluating how the timing and duration of sleep may also contribute to the development or maintenance of psychological disorders.
It could potentially allow psychologists to treat anxiety and depression by shifting patients’ sleep cycles to a healthier time or making it more likely a patient will sleep when they get in bed, they said.
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