Nocturnal insomnia symptoms and stress-induced cognitive intrusions in risk for depression: A 2-year prospective study

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PLoS One


Nearly half of US adults endorse insomnia symptoms. Sleep problems increase risk for depression during stress, but the mechanisms are unclear. During high stress, individuals having difficulty falling or staying asleep may be vulnerable to cognitive intrusions after stressful events, given that the inability to sleep creates a period of unstructured and socially isolated time in bed. We investigated the unique and combined effects of insomnia symptoms and stress-induced cognitive intrusions on risk for incident depression. 1126 non-depressed US adults with no history of DSM-5 insomnia disorder completed 3 annual web-based surveys on sleep, stress, and depression. We examined whether nocturnal insomnia symptoms and stress-induced cognitive intrusions predicted depression 1y and 2y later. Finally, we compared depression-risk across four groups: non-perseverators with good sleep, non-perseverators with insomnia symptoms, perseverators with good sleep, and perseverators with insomnia symptoms. Insomnia symptoms (β = .10-.13, p < .001) and cognitive intrusions (β = .19-.20, p < .001) predicted depression severity 1y and 2y later. Depression incidence across 2 years was 6.2%. Perseverators with insomnia had the highest rates of depression (13.0%), whereas good sleeping non-perseverators had the lowest rates (3.3%, Relative Risk = 3.94). Perseverators with sleep latency >30 m reported greater depression than good sleeping perseverators (t = 2.09, p < .04). Cognitive intrusions following stress creates a depressogenic mindset, and nocturnal wakefulness may augment the effects of cognitive arousal on depression development. Poor sleepers may be especially vulnerable to cognitive intrusions when having difficulty initiating sleep. As treatable behaviors, nighttime wakefulness and cognitive arousal may be targeted to reduce risk for depression in poor sleepers.

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Adult; Cognition Disorders; Depression; Female; Humans; Male; Middle Aged; Prospective Studies; Risk Factors; Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders; Stress, Psychological

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