Sleep disorders may be a symptom of depression: People who don’t get enough sleep have repetitive, negative thoughts which can lead to depression and anxiety
07/01/2018 // Earl Garcia // Views

Lack of sleep may do more than induce a "spaced out" feeling as recent research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that sleep deprivation may lead to the persistence of repetitive negative thoughts. Researchers at the State University of New York at Binghamton explained that repetitive negative thinking occurs when a person focuses on distressing and unhelpful thoughts and stimuli, which in turn may result in a decreased quality of life and the onset of mental health problems associated with depression and anxiety.

The research team enrolled 52 participants aged between 18 and 65 years old in order to carry out the study. The experts also examined the volunteers' attention span by showing them both neutral and emotionally evocative photos and following their eye movements in the process. Likewise, the scientists assessed the participants' sleep cycles and took note of their sleep duration and the time they usually go to sleep.

The scientists found that participants who suffered from frequent sleep disturbances reported greater difficulties in reverting their focus away from negative stimuli. According to the research team, participants with shorter sleep had even more trouble ignoring negative thoughts. The findings suggest that poor sleep may be correlated with the persistence of negative thoughts, the experts said.

"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. While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it," researcher Professor Meredith E. Coles told Medical News Today online.


"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. The study 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," Prof. Coles concluded.

The research team acknowledged the study's limitation, but also stressed on the importance of adequate sleep on thought processes and attention span.

Expert offers tips to improve sleep without using medication

Dialectical behavior therapy expert Lara Schuster Effland confirmed that sleep disorders such as insomnia may result in feelings of anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness as well as exhaustion and concentration issues. Effland wrote in the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) website that about 10 to 35 percent of people across the United States currently experience insomnia. (Related: Lack of sleep slows you physically AND mentally: Study finds slow moving brain cells cause that “spaced out” feeling.)

The expert noted that lack of sleep is notoriously detrimental to the body's overall health. In line with this, Effland listed a few ways to improve sleep and keep depression at bay without resorting to medication. These include:

  1. Calming the mind -- According to Effland, people with sleeping troubles may opt for conscious relaxation, cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy techniques to address the issue. Likewise, the scientist added that following a bedtime routine and turning off all electronic devices before going to bed may effectively prime the body to sleep. "I recommend that you first consult your therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor to ensure that you have no psychological issues, medical complications, or medication interactions that could be causing your difficulties with sleep," Effland said in an AADA article.
  2. Preparing the body -- Effland also stressed that preparing the body by following various breathing and relaxation techniques may help improve sleep quality. According to the scientist, these techniques may help stymie negative thoughts and encourage positive or reaffirming thoughts. "If you have consistent trouble calming your mind, it can be more effective to focus on the body first. You can use relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and somatic therapy techniques," the expert said.

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