Moms and dads worldwide are well aware that the later their kids stay up at night, the tougher the following morning is going to be, and the rest of the day as well. Now researchers at Binghamton University have put science behind the anecdotes and have confirmed that the less sleep you get and the later you stay up, the greater your chances of days filled with worry and negativity.
How did they do their research? They recruited 100 students and had them complete surveys, as well as some computerized tasks that actually measured whether the students were experiencing repetitive negative thinking (RNT). RNT is the experience of worry and obsessive worrying. The students were also surveyed about their sleep schedules and habits.
Though people who think of themselves as “evening” people may think that their habits have no impact on their personality or mindset, the study showed that those who sleep less and stay up later have many more negative thoughts than do those who think of themselves as morning people who get full nights of sleep and wake up early. Though the researchers say that the hours you keep do not cause the negative or positive thinking, they do indicate that it is possible that things work the other way around – that a tendency to worry and feel anxious may be disrupting people’s ability to get to sleep earlier or to sleep without disruption.
There have been previous studies done that have shown that repetitive negative thinking is linked with problems with sleep, but this study is the first to suggest that beyond sleep quality or quantity, the hours that you sleep may have an impact on whether you experience it. That being said, there was a 2013 study that concluded that there was a link between the hours people keep and their exhibition of symptoms of depression. Though RNT is associated with depression, it has the additional characteristics of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to one of the study’s authors, Dr. Meredith Coles, “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. 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 study appeared in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, and though scientists have a great deal more to learn about the impact of sleep on RNT, those who struggle with negative thinking and obsessive worry don’t need to wait to put their findings to the test. By prioritizing getting enough sleep and getting yourself to bed an hour or two earlier, you may find that your overall outlook improves.