This Sleep Tweak Could Help You Worry Less

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Can the time you hit the hay actually influence the types of thoughts you have? Science says yes. (Gallerystock)

Are you a chronic worrier? The hour you’re going to sleep, and how much sleep you’re getting overall, may exacerbate your anxiety, according to a new study published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.

The great news here? By tweaking your sleep habits you could actually help yourself worry less. Really. 

Researchers from Binghamton University in New York used the results of questionnaires and two computerized tasks from a group of 100 young adults to measure sleep amounts, as well as how much each of the participants talk about fear and fret.

After analyzing the cross-sectional data, they found that people who sleep for shorter amounts of time and go to bed later have greater levels of worry, rumination, and obsessing, the three factors that contribute to a process called “repetitive negative thinking.”

Related: How to Win at Sleep

Additionally, the study found that those who classify themselves as an “evening type” — meaning they tend to stay up later, shaping their daily activities around night-owl behaviors — are more likely to report repetitive negative thinking than those who subscribe to morning-centered daily regimens or don’t adhere to either morning or evening schedules.

Study co-author Jacob Nota, a clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton, says scientists aren’t yet exactly sure how these variables are connected. However, those affected by mood and anxiety disorders frequently report repetitive negative thoughts.

Sleep may be a form of thought clarification and regulation.

“We do know that getting enough sleep is important for emotional and cognitive functioning,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Research has shown that while you’re sleeping, your brain is hard at work building and refining connections, integrating memories and emotions, and preparing you for the next day.”

As to why late-sleepers have more negative thoughts than morning-risers? “Within any 24-hour period your body prepares you for many different tasks, like paying attention, solving problems, and regulating emotions,” Nota says. “You’ll do best if you do these tasks during the time your body is prepared for them.”

When it comes to timing tasks, your body functions on its own clock.

Circadian rhythms, anyone? If you refuse to operate by your body’s timeline, you may be in for a rude awakening. Literally.

“For example, we know that most people are best able to focus their attention in the few hours following waking up,” Nota says. “It seems that high-level cognitive processes, like the ability to inhibit thoughts and images, may be diminished as the day goes on. Therefore, individuals who go to bed later may be more prone to experience these repetitive negative thoughts and have trouble dismissing them.”

There are ways to control your mind and sleeping habits.

For some who truly can’t shut off their minds (or get much rest at all), Nota says cognitive-behavioral therapy has been effective in reducing repetitive negative thinking. Chronotherapeutics are also an option, which are aimed to improve sleep through light exposure, melatonin and other interventional techniques taking into account a person’s natural circadian rhythms.

Related: Talk Therapy Substantially Reduces Suicide Risk, Study Finds

For most, simple at-home hacks to sleep more and worry less might be all you need.

“It may be helpful to build a routine around bed and wake times that is kept regularly and designed to be relaxing,” says Nota. “Also make sure your sleeping space is conducive to sleep — dark, a comfortable temperature, and only used being for this purposes.” And if you’re not actually ready to go to sleep, do other activities in different places (read: not your bedroom). 

Restricting your hours of sleep at first might be a useful technique to get better rest in the long run. “This is so you’re not just lying in bed with mind racing and worried thoughts,” says Nota. As you tire earlier with less sleep, you can progressively increase the amount of time you’re in bed each night.

Overall, Nota says, people need to think about sleep more completely. “It’s not just about how much you get, when you get it matters too,” he explains.

If you’re not actually resting at night, you’re selling yourself short.

“Our basic needs — like food, shelter and sleep — have to be met in order for individuals to have the opportunity to thrive,” Nota says.

So get off the computer earlier, shut off your smartphone and put your away your work. We couldn’t think of a better excuse for catching a few extra winks than worrying less.

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