Do Less Consistent Night-To-Night Sleep Patterns Impact Emotional Processing Among Healthy School-Aged Children?

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While research has made considerable strides in understanding the complex, dynamic relationships between sleep and mental health, it remains hindered by simplified views of sleep and emotion across development (Meltzer, 2017). More recent research has instead attempted to examine sleep from a multidimensional “sleep health” perspective (Buysse, 2014). In the current study, we adopted this multidimensional approach by examining sleep regularity (i.e., variability of sleep patterns from night to night) in relation to the emotional processing of school-aged children. Among a sample of healthy school aged children (N = 53, 7-11 years, M age = 9.0; 56% female), we examined relationships between intra-individual sleep variability (IIV) of sleep across one week and various aspects of children’s emotional functioning, including anxiety and internalizing symptoms, and subjective and objective responses during two in-lab emotional tasks, one conducted after a night of healthy sleep and another after two nights of partial sleep restriction. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was assessed as an objective measure of emotional regulation during one task. Contrary to expectations, sleep IIV was unassociated with parent and child reported anxiety and internalizing symptoms, as well as subjective and objective measures of emotional functioning after baseline sleep. Sleep IIV significantly predicted change RSA after sleep restriction, such that greater sleep duration IIV and social jet lag predicted changes in RSA while watching negative emotional movies clips. Sleep regularity’s impact on emotional functioning across development warrants further exploration, especially its impact on emotional functioning after subsequent sleep restriction.

sleep regularity, emotion, development