New research sheds light on the psychological mechanisms that link fragmented sleep with negative emotions

A recent study published in Cognition and emotion It has shed light on how fragmented sleep is linked to a decreased ability to control our emotions. Specifically, one night of disrupted sleep caused study participants to fix their thoughts on negative thoughts, and this was significantly associated with stronger negative feelings the next day.

Intermittent sleep is caused by waking up for a short time during the night, which leads to poor sleep quality. Such interrupted sleep not only leaves individuals feeling tired the next morning, but it also often results in a dip in positive mood and an increase in negative mood. But the precise mechanism is at work Why The effect of sleep on our emotions is not well established.

One theory is that sleep modifies our abilities to regulate emotions. Emotion regulation involves using our thoughts and actions to control the emotions we feel and how we express those feelings. These can be divided into Coping and maladaptive strategies.

Adaptation Emotion regulation strategies are intended to be helpful in improving our mood – for example, viewing a situation in a more positive way (‘cognitive reappraisal’), accepting emotions as they are and not feeling like changing these emotions (‘acceptance’). Focusing attention on something more neutral or positive (“distraction”).

in contrast, Poor adaptation to society Strategies are often harmful and moody – for example, not outwardly expressing feelings (‘suppression’), constantly thinking negatively about a situation (‘rumination’), and negatively judging ourselves (‘self-criticism’).

Merrill Elise Bonn and colleagues from Radboud University in the Netherlands set out to investigate the effect of sleep fragmentation on the six emotion-regulating strategies, and thus how mood is affected.

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63 female and six male students from Radboud University between the ages of 18 and 29 were recruited into the study, which ran over 12 consecutive nights. Participants wore an Actiwatch on their wrist each night, a device that objectively tracks sleep through movement, as well as filling out a sleep diary each morning, which provides subjective details of their sleep.

On the sixth day, participants slept normally for one night (the control night), or experienced sleep fragmentation in which they were awakened by an alarm every 80 minutes.

Entering the morning of the seventh day, participants completed an emotion regulation task. This task consisted of first watching a neutral film clip from a nature documentary to put all participants in a similar emotional state. Next, a sad movie clip was shown as a baseline measure. Finally, participants were instructed to use one of the emotion regulation strategies of cognitive reappraisal, distraction, acceptance, or suppression, before showing a different sad movie clip.

After the task on day seven, participants filled out questionnaires measuring how much they used cognitive reappraisal, distraction, acceptance, suppression, rumination, and self-criticism, as well as their current positive and negative feelings.

This process was repeated the following week, but instead participants were in the opposite condition. For example, if they previously had normal sleep, they experience sleep fragmentation, and vice versa.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that participants reported lower levels of positive emotions after sleep fragmentation compared to normal sleep. However, the level of negative emotions did not differ.

In particular, participants reported increased rumination after sleep fragmentation. Of all the emotional regulation strategies investigated, only rumination was found to be associated with stronger negative emotions in the morning following sleep fragmentation. Researchers suggest that this may be due to poor sleep quality, which disrupts the ability to control attention, thus disrupting the ability to divert attention from negative thoughts. On a longer time scale, “the mood-depressing effects of rumination after lack of sleep … can lead to symptoms of rumination.” [depression]”, suggest Boone and colleagues.

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Participants also reported more distraction after sleep fragmentation. Boone and his colleagues hypothesized that participants used distraction more often as a countermeasure Adaptation Strategy because there is more Poor adaptation to society Ruminative thoughts after fragmented sleep. However, it is interesting that distraction reduces positive emotions, so the researchers suggest that further investigation is needed.

Finally, there was no evidence that any of the emotion regulation strategies played a role in the relationship between sleep fragmentation and positive emotions.

The researchers highlighted some limitations in their study. For example, it was not clear which stage of sleep participants were awakened from. Previous research has shown links between deep, interrupted sleep and poorer emotion regulation, so if participants were awakened during light sleep, this could result in less of an effect on emotion regulation abilities.

Furthermore, males and females were found to differ in their primary choice of emotion regulation strategies. The results cannot therefore be applied to a wider population because the majority of participants were female.

Despite some study shortcomings, this study effectively investigates the short-term effects of poor sleep on mood, and opens questions for further scientific research, such as the long-term consequences of poor sleep quality.

the study, “The effect of fragmented sleep on the ability to regulate and utilize emotionwritten by Meryl Elise Boone, MLM Van Hove, J.M. Fink and SAE Geurts.

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