How We Process Daytime Events Affects Our Quality of Nighttime Sleep

Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. People who experience insomnia find that they are unable to fall asleep easily, and even when they do, they often wake up repeatedly. The sleep they do get is often fragmented and results in a restless and unbeneficial quality of sleep. Deep and meaningful sleep is necessary to restore the body and recover muscle tone and brain activity depleted during waking hours. It is theorized that the events experienced during the day directly impact the type of sleep a person gets. Some research has examined the types of events and their relationship to sleep and sleep problems such as insomnia. To expand upon this, Marie Vandekerckhove of the Department of Biological Psychology at Vrije University in Brussels, Belgium, recently led a study that assessed the way in which events were processed and how that affected the quality of a person’s sleep.

For her study, Vandekerckhove employed two different coping strategies, an experiential and an analytical approach, and evaluated their relationship to sleep in a sample of 28 individuals. The participants were prompted with a negative-failure scenario and then instructed to either address the situation experientially, using acceptance and understanding of their emotions, or analytically, by identifying the cause and effect of their experience. Vandekerckhove assessed the sleep structure of the participants after they engaged their coping strategies and found that those who addressed the failure event experientially had a better quality of sleep than those who used analytical tactics.

Specifically, Vandekerckhove discovered that the experiential approach resulted in less stress and irritability. Although these participants took longer to fall asleep, they remained asleep longer than the analytical group. Vandekerckhove believes that these findings demonstrate the benefits of experiential coping when faced with troubling events. Negative moods and stress decreased when they were approached through an accepting and felt way, and they did not decrease when they were analyzed. Vandekerckhove concluded by saying, “Experiential awareness and openness for one’s own affective experience and meaning appears to be adaptive in the processing of painful failure experiences even on the indirect implicit level of sleep physiology.”

Vandekerckhove, M., Kestemont, J., Gross, J. J., Weiss, R., Schotte, C., Exadaktylos, V., et al. (2012). Experiential versus analytical emotion regulation and sleep: Breaking the link between negative events and sleep disturbance. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028501

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If Only I Could Get Some Sleep!
Taking in the World, One Moment at a Time

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  • Amy

    July 21st, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    I find that I often have problems with mind chatter. You know, if I don’t feel like I have resolved something during the day, even when I think that I have buried it for a while, it always comes back to haunt me right about the time that I am trying to fall asleep. Then once I am thinking about it, there is no way to get it out of my head. And rarely is 3am the best time to resove an issue like this that keeps you awake at night!

  • Bob

    July 21st, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Sounds like the experiential group is just more used to this sort of a problem and with their experience are able to cope with it better.Skills developed over time can be more effective than an analytical approach especially when the result is time-bound.

  • iris d

    July 21st, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Well, looking at the cause and effect that the analytical approach supports doesn’t really ever solve the problem. If you are looking for what happened, then cause and effect is fine. But it appears that if you are searching for resolution then this is not the route to pursue. You can go over things time and again in your head looking at what led to a certain situation, but as we all know this does not always get you to a place of acceptance and understanding so that you can put it behind you.

  • slam it!

    July 22nd, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    This is why, when possible, you should try to work out all the kinks of an argument or whatever before you go to bed. If you don’t then that is just a night of insomnia waiting to happen.

  • Drew S

    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Is there any evidence at all that sleep medication like Ambien can help people truly overcome insomnia or is this more of a band aid? I think that those things work at first but then they stop working just like anything else. And for me, I have even tried those and I still stay awake because I am still trying to process all the events of the day that I still feel need resolution.

  • Jordyn

    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I am a writer, and many times I have found that I do my very best work when others are sound asleep.

    Maybe it’s the quiet that helps me think things through, gives me that little bit of peace so that I can work out that exact verbage that I am searching for. Or maybe it’s the loneliness that the night can bring, but whatever it is I have learned to embrace that calm among the storm and appreciate the beauty that my insomnia can sometimes bring me.

  • Rochelle

    July 23rd, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    I’m always amazed at how quickly I can fall and stay asleep. I can literally feel my cells quieting– as if they have a pillow too!

    Big fan of sleep, especially naps around 3 pm :)

  • thomas george

    July 24th, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    Think this is more of a problem for women than men
    Never met another man who has any problem at all with going to sleep, anywhere or at any time

  • Riley

    July 24th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    I know that for me, when I have a bad day that is ALWAYS going to translate into a bad night’s sleep.

    I can’t help it, it’s just that I always carry all of those feelings and emotions around with me and a lot of times it takes so much longer than a day to process them and resolve them

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