Getting less than eight hours a night can lead to repetitive, intrusive thoughts.
Many of us aren’t getting enough sleep at night. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that about 35 percent of Americans got less than seven hours a night—the minimum recommended for adults. Experts have long told us we need to sleep enough in order to ward off health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Add another problem that can be helped if we sleep more: suffering from repetitive negative thoughts, also known as worry or rumination.
In a new study from Binghamton University, people prone to have moderate to high levels of worry had their sleep timing and duration assessed. They were asked to look at pictures that evoked an emotional response, and had their attention tracked through eye movements. The researchers found that having disrupted sleep was associated with having a harder time shifting attention away from negative information. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it,” wrote study author Meredith Coles, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University. The lack of sleep may be part of why negative thoughts tend to “stick,” and cause us mental anguish, the researchers think.
“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,” wrote Coles. “This 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.”
Next, the researchers will look into ways to help people with anxiety and depression by shifting their sleep cycles, whether to a longer duration or to boost the odds that they will sleep soundly once they get into bed.
If you want to improve your sleep quality to avoid ruminative thoughts, here are some better-sleep tips from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Remember that caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so afternoon coffee can still linger in your system at bedtime. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, swap out coffee for a decaf to see if that helps. Or, try this Deep Sleep tonic for an Ayurvedic approach.
- Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm; that’s why it tends to wake you up in the middle of the night. Avoid the nightcap if you find you are popping awake.
- A temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is typically ideal for sleeping.
- Avoid blue light, such as from e-readers, cell phones, computers, tablets and TVs. Best choice for winding down? Reading old-fashioned printed material, under a lamplight.