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Repetitive negative thinking and negative focus on problems may be increased in those who experience reduced sleep, a new study finds.

Mental health issues are an increasing problem in Western countries. Repetitive negative thinking, consisting of a continual negative focus on problems and/or experiences has been associated with several disorders, including: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

A recent study published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research has reported on the association between repetitive negative thinking and reduced sleep. The study took into account both sleep duration in addition to sleep timing. The study was comprised of 100 young adults (58% females), with an average age of 19.4 years. The participants completed questionnaires and computerised tasks to assess various parameters including: RNT (worry, rumination, and obsessions), sleep quality, and tendencies towards morningness or eveningness. Overall, the results of the study revealed that sleeping for a shorter amount of time and later bed times were associated with an increase in repetitive negative thinking. The highest amount of repetitive negative thinking reported occurred in participants who classified themselves as ‘evening type’. The results of the study are supported by recent research that has reported relationships between mental health disorders and delayed bedtimes and those who have a sleep/wake cycle that is skewed to later in the day.

Addressing sleep disturbances could therefore be an important step in the treatment of several mental health disorders. One particular clinical trial that is currently recruiting participants aims to do just this. The objective of the study is to determine whether a combination of sleep time stabilisation, wake therapy, and light therapy, in addition to standard treatment, can decrease depressive symptoms in patients with major depression. The study is being conducted at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and aims to enrol 74 patients who will be randomised to either the experimental treatment group, or to standard care. Participants will be eligible to participate in the study if they are aged 18-65 years, and have a diagnosis of major depression. The estimated completion date of the study is September 2015.


Jacob A. Nota, Meredith E. Coles. “Duration and Timing of Sleep are Associated with Repetitive Negative ThinkingCognitive Therapy and Research, Published online: 4 December 2014. “Wake and Light Therapy to In-patients With Major Depression: Efficacy, Predictors and Patient Experiences”Available from: Last Accessed: Dec 10, 2014.

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Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD

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