Skimping on sleep and staying up late could indicate you’re headed for a negative spiral of persistent worry and negative thinking, according to new research from Binghamton University.
The researchers asked 100 students to complete several questionnaires and two computerized tasks to gauge repetitive negative thinking (RNT) by measuring how much the subjects worried, ruminated or obsessed over something. The subjects also answered questions about their sleep habits and schedules.
Subjects who described themselves as “evening” people, as well as those who slept fewer hours at night, were found to experience more negative thoughts than those who described themselves as “morning” people, as well as those who slept longer. Though the data suggests a correlation, it does not imply causality. The researchers note that it is possible that worry leads to disruptions in the timing and duration of sleep, rather than late sleep times causing greater worry.
The new data supports previous research, which has linked repetitive negative thinking with sleeping issues, but is the first to suggest a link between RNT levels and sleep schedule. However, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Occupational Psychology found a correlation between late bed times and depressive symptoms.
Repetitive, intrusive negative thoughts like those described by the students who stayed up late are often associated with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“If further findings support the relationship between sleep timing and repetitive negative thinking, this could one day lead to a new avenue for treatment of individuals with internalizing disorders,” one of the study’s authors, Dr. Meredith Coles, said in a statement. “Studying the relation between reductions in sleep duration and psychopathology has already demonstrated that focusing on sleep in the clinic also leads to reductions in symptoms of psychopathology.”
The findings appeared in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.