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Some people are cranky before they’ve had their morning coffee. Others can’t function until they’ve stepped into a scolding hot shower. Me? I’m rocking and rolling from the get-go—as long as I’ve gotten my 8 hours of sleep.

Every night of the work week, I make sure I’m in bed by 11 pm. I don’t care if there’s 10 minutes left of my Netflix show or if my friends are begging me to stay out longer: it’s lights off at 11, as to ensure I get my 8 hours of sleep.

Now, I haven’t always prioritized my sleep. In high school and college, I stayed up well past midnight scrolling through social media, binge-watching Netflix, and hanging out with friends—knowing very well that I would suffer the following morning. But this past summer, I decided to make a change: to prioritize my sleep. And ever since I implemented that change, I’ve felt happier and healthier, both physically and mentally.

There are plenty of people who say that sleep is overrated—that there’s no way an extra hour or two of sleep could make that much of a difference. But that’s just not true; and I don’t stand alone in my claims. A plethora of research has shown just how important sleep is to our health, with the most recent one focusing on mental health. This new study “Shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency are related to difficulty disengaging attention from negative emotional images in individuals with elevated transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking” says an insufficient amount of sleep is associated with anxiety and depression.

More specifically, these researchers from Binghampton University, State University of New York found that getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night can result in negative, repetitive thoughts such as those seen in anxiety and depression. “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,” explained Binghampton University Professor of Psychology Meredith Coles. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it.”

To reach these findings, Coles and former graduate student Jacob Nota analyzed sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts. These study participants were shown different pictures designed to generate an emotional response, while the researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements. Upon doing so, Coles and Nota found regular sleep disruptions to be associated with difficulty in moving one’s mind away from negativity—which may mean that insufficient sleep has a hand in negative thoughts festering and interfering with peoples’ lives.

Coles explained that negative thoughts are believed to increase an individual’s risk of developing different types of 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. 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.”

Coles and Nota are conducting additional studies, which will further analyze how the timing and duration of sleep contribute to psychological disorders. And if their initial beliefs are correct, their research just might help psychologists better treat anxiety and depression by offering a new intervention: a simple shift in their patients’ sleep cycles.

Sources:
Binghampton University (2018, January 4). People Who Sleep Less Than 8 Hours a Night More Likely to Suffer Anxiety and Depression. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 4, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/sleep-depression-anxiety-8269/

Nota, J. A., & Coles, M. E. (2017, October 16). Shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency are related to difficulty disengaging attention from negative emotional images in individuals with elevated transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Retrieved on January 5, 2018 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005791617300629

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