Regular sleep disruptions can increase the difficulty in shifting attention away from negative thoughts.
While other people may be able to move on from their negative thoughts, people low on sleep can have trouble ignoring it.
This means that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people’s lives, the researchers said.
“We found that people 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,” said Meredith Coles, Professor at the Binghamton University.
“These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression,” Coles added.
For the study, published in the journal ScienceDirect, the team assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts (e.g., worry and rumination).
The participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements.
The timing and duration of sleep may also contribute to the development or maintenance of psychological disorders, a finding that 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, the researchers said.