Summary: A recent study reveals quality sleep can significantly bolster resilience to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, especially under chronic stress.
Analyzing data from over 600 participants during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers found that positive coping strategies, supported by high-quality sleep, helped to prevent poor mental health outcomes. Furthermore, better sleep quality was associated with fewer symptoms of both depression and anxiety during the initial months of the pandemic.
The study underlines the importance of targeting both positive coping strategies and sleep quality to endure periods of chronic stress.
This is the first study to examine sleep quality and coping strategies under real-world stressors like COVID-19.
The data was collected from the Boston College Daily Sleep and Well-being Survey during the pandemic.
The study also considered factors like alcohol consumption, quarantine status, and physical activity levels.
Source: University of York
Research has shown quality sleep can help bolster resilience to depression and anxiety.
The study, led by researchers at the University of York, highlights that chronic stress is a major risk factor for a number of mental health disorders, including depression and pathological anxiety, but high-quality sleep and coping strategies – such as the ability to reframe a situation to see the positive side – can help to prevent poor mental health when faced with negative or stressful experiences.
The research studied data from over 600 participants during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – an extended stressful period of time. They aimed to test the theory that coping strategies supported positive mental health outcomes, which could be strengthened by high-quality sleep.
Emma Sullivan, PhD student from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic has been a prolonged period of stress for people across the entire world, it offered us with a unique context with which to address our research questions.
“This is the first study to investigate the ways in which positive coping strategies and sleep quality influence depression and anxiety when experiencing a real-world chronic stressor. We found that better sleep quality was associated with fewer symptoms of both depression and anxiety during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These findings highlight the importance of targeting both positive coping strategies and sleep quality when enduring periods of chronic stress.”
The team analysed data from the Boston College Daily Sleep and Well-being Survey where participants regularly self-reported their sleep quality and mental well-being during the pandemic.
They also completed a baseline demographic survey to obtain information such as their age, gender and ethnicity. As well as collecting information on participants’ sleep and mental well-being, the surveys also collected a wealth of additional information such as participants’ alcohol consumption, their quarantine status and physical activity levels.
Dr Scott Cairney, PhD supervisor on the project from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, said: “We have known for a long time that high-quality sleep is associated with better health and wellbeing outcomes, but we wanted to know whether this would change if sleep and coping strategies were put under intense and prolonged periods of stress, as it was for so many during the pandemic.”
“We found that sleep plays a hugely important role in the management of chronic stress and can sustain well-being over a long period of time, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
The influence of emotion regulation strategies and sleep quality on depression and anxiety
Chronic stress is a major risk factor for a number of mental health disorders, including depression and pathological anxiety. Adaptive cognitive emotion regulation (CER) strategies (i.e. positively-focused thought processes) can help to prevent psychiatric disturbance when enduring unpleasant and stressful experiences, but little is known about the inter-individual factors that govern their success.
Sleep plays an important role in mental health, and may moderate the effectiveness of adaptive CER strategies by maintaining the executive functions on which they rely. In this study, we carried out a secondary analysis of self-reported mental health and sleep data acquired during a protracted and naturally-occurring stressor – the COVID-19 pandemic – to firstly test the hypothesis that adaptive CER strategy use is associated with positive mental health outcomes and secondly, that the benefits of adaptive CER strategy use for mental health are contingent on high-quality sleep.
Using established self-report tools, participants estimated their depression (N = 551) and anxiety (N = 590) levels, sleep quality and tendency to engage in adaptive and maladaptive CER strategies during the Spring and Autumn of 2020. Using a linear mixed modelling approach, we found that greater use of adaptive CER strategies and higher sleep quality were independently associated with lower self-reported depression and anxiety.
However, adaptive CER strategy use was not a significant predictor of self-reported anxiety when accounting for sleep quality in our final model. The positive influence of adaptive CER strategy use on depression was observed at different levels of sleep quality.
These findings highlight the importance of adaptive CER strategy use and good sleep quality in promoting resilience to depression and anxiety when experiencing chronic stress.