Pre-pandemic sleep reactivity prospectively predicts distress during the COVID-19 pandemic: The protective effect of insomnia treatment

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Journal of sleep research


The COVID-19 pandemic is a rare stressor that has precipitated an accompanying mental health crisis. Prospective studies traversing the pandemic's onset can elucidate how pre-existing disease vulnerabilities augured risk for later stress-related morbidity. We examined how pre-pandemic sleep reactivity predicted maladaptive stress reactions and depressive symptoms in response to, and during, the pandemic. This study is a secondary analysis of a randomised controlled trial from 2016 to 2017 comparing digital cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (dCBT-I) against sleep education (N = 208). Thus, we also assessed whether dCBT-I moderated the association between pre-pandemic sleep reactivity and pandemic-related distress. Pre-pandemic sleep reactivity was measured at baseline using the Ford Insomnia Response to Stress Test. In April 2020, participants were recontacted to report pandemic-related distress (stress reactions and depression). Controlling for the treatment condition and the degree of COVID-19 impact, higher pre-pandemic sleep reactivity predicted more stress reactions (β = 0.13, ± 0.07 SE, p = 0.045) and depression (β = 0.22, ± 0.07 SE, p = 0.001) during the pandemic. Further, the odds of reporting clinically significant stress reactions and depression during the pandemic were over twice as high in those with high pre-pandemic sleep reactivity. Notably, receiving dCBT-I in 2016-2017 mitigated the relationship between pre-pandemic sleep reactivity and later stress reactions (but not depression). Pre-pandemic sleep reactivity predicted psychological distress 3-4 years later during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dCBT-I attenuated its association with stress reactions, specifically. Sleep reactivity may inform prevention and treatment efforts by identifying individuals at risk of impairment following stressful events.

Medical Subject Headings

Humans; Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders; Pandemics; COVID-19; Prospective Studies; Sleep

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