The later you go to bed at night, the more likely you are to be haunted by persistent, negative thoughts throughout the day, suggests a new study in Cognitive Therapy and Research led by Binghamton University psychologist Jacob A. Nota. He had 100 undergrads fill out surveys that asked about their sleep habits, what they worried most about, and how often they worried.
The students’ average reported bedtime was 1 a.m., but some went to sleep as early as 10 p.m.; others stayed up as late as 5 a.m. After analyzing their responses, the researchers found an association between repetitive negative thinking and later bedtimes. Worrying was also linked with less time sleeping overall.
The brain’s prefrontal cortex has been shown to be particularly sensitive to sleep deprivation — this is an area of the brain associated with attention, which gives a clue as to why fixating on the bad stuff may be tied to lack of sleep. But does a later bedtime and lack of sleep lead to more negative thoughts, or does worrying make it harder to fall and stay asleep? It could be both: a vicious circle of sleep deprivation that’s just one more thing to worry about … as you fail to fall asleep.