BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES:
Repetitive negative thinking (RNT) is often associated with disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms. Disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms may deal a “second hit” to attentional control deficits. This study evaluated whether sleep and circadian rhythm disruptions are related to the top-down control of attention to negative stimuli in individuals with heightened repetitive negative thinking.
Fifty-two community adults with high levels of transdiagnostic RNT and varying habitual sleep durations and bedtimes participated in a hybrid free-viewing and directed attention task using pairs of emotionally-evocative and neutral images while eye-tracking data were collected. Self-report and clinician-administered interviews regarding sleep were also collected.
Shorter habitual sleep duration was associated with more time looking at emotionally negative compared to neutral images during a free-viewing attention task and more difficulty disengaging attention from negative compared to neutral images during a directed attention task. In addition, longer sleep onset latencies were also associated with difficulty disengaging attention from negative stimuli. The relations between sleep and attention for positive images were not statistically significant.
A causal link between sleep and attentional control cannot be inferred from these cross-sectional data. The lack of a healthy control sample means that the relations between sleep disruption, attention, and emotional reactivity may not be unique to individuals with RNT.
These findings suggest that sleep disruption may be associated with a specific impact on cognitive resources that are necessary for the top-down inhibitory control of attention to emotionally negative information.