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Dec 04, 2014 11:23 AM EST

Late Evenings May Be Linked to Repetitive Negative Thoughts

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Staying up at night may make it difficult for some people to stop worrying, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Binghamton University found that people who sleep for shorter periods of time and go to bed very late at night are often overwhelmed with more negative thoughts than those who keep more regular sleeping hours.

People are said to have repetitive negative thinking when they have bothersome pessimistic thoughts that seem to repeat their minds. They feel as though they have little control over those contemplations. They also tend to worry excessively about the future, delve too much into the past, and experience annoying intrusive thought. Such thoughts are often typical of people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

"Making sure that sleep is obtained during the right time of day may be an inexpensive and easily disseminable intervention for individuals who are bothered by intrusive thoughts," researcher Jacob Nota said in a statement.

For the study, researchers asked 100 young adults at Binghamton University to complete a battery of questionnaires and two computerized tasks. In the process, it was measured how much the students worry, ruminate or obsess about something -- three measures by which repetitive negative thinking is gauged. The students were also asked whether they were more habitual morning or evening types, preferring to hold regular hours or to have a sleep-wake schedule that is more skewed towards later in the day.

They found that people who sleep for shorter periods of time and go to bed later often experience more repetitive negative thoughts than others. This was also true for those students who described themselves as evening types.

The findings also suggest that sleep disruption may be linked to the development of repetitive negative thinking. Researchers therefore believe that it might benefit people who are at risk of developing a disorder characterized by such intrusive thoughts to focus on getting enough sleep.

"If further findings support the relation between sleep timing and repetitive negative thinking, this could one day lead to a new avenue for treatment of individuals with internalizing disorders," researcher Meredith Coles added.

The findings are detailed in Springer's journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.

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