Researchers at the University of Arkansas added to the understanding of how anxiety affects sleep with research that looked for associations between anxiety and procrastination and other patterns of poor sleep.
It’s no secret that sleeping problems are common in anxious individuals. In fact, more than 50% of primary care patients experience occasional insomnia, while 19% struggle with chronic insomnia.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas theorized that one reason people with high anxiety are more likely to procrastinate at bedtime was the negative experience of trying to fall asleep while in a state of heightened arousal.
That led to a study in which they looked at whether total sleep time and bedtime delay mediate the association between anxiety and sleep problems.
“Sleep loss is a public health crisis, and if we want to help people get more sleep, the first thing we need to do is understand what’s getting in the way of their sleep,” said lead author Rebecca L. Campbell, a doctoral student in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Arkansas. “Bedtime delays may explain some of the challenges in getting enough sleep.”
In the study published in the Journal of Clinical PsychologyCampbell and fellow researcher, Ana J. Bridges, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, examined whether higher anxiety was associated with total sleep time and bedtime delay and sleep problems.
A cohort of 308 adult primary care patients from two clinics formed the study. About 70% of the study participants were female and the mean age was 33 years. The volunteers completed a questionnaire about psychological health and sleep behavior. They were asked about how often in the past two weeks they had felt tense, nervous, irritable, and found themselves daydreaming, worrying, or staring into space. The questionnaire also included questions about sleeping habits, such as when people went to bed, when they fell asleep and the number of hours they slept.
The total average sleep time was 7 hours per night with a delay of 1.82 hours in falling asleep. Patients who experienced longer sleep duration showed significantly less anxiety and procrastination.
The results showed that patients who were more anxious slept fewer hours per night and reported significantly more procrastination, leading the study authors to speculate that the habit might be a form of anxious avoidance.
“Using structural equation modeling, we found higher anxiety related to higher sleep problems, mediated in part by delay in bedtime but not total sleep time, says Campbell. This study highlights related factors such as anxiety and bedtime behaviors that may be effective treatment targets for sleep problems. “
Campbell and Bridges believe that mental health clinicians working with primary care patients should explore how anxiety and sleep problems may be linked and consider the role of anxiety in bedtime routines and procrastination.