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You’re suffering from unwanted thoughts? Maybe you’re lacking sleep

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Everyone has unwanted thoughts once in a while. However, they are particularly intrusive for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

Now scientists from the University of York found that the ability to suppress intrusive thoughts declines when the person is sleep deprived.

Unwanted thoughts have a huge negative impact on one’s quality of life. And could be dealt with easier if you get enough sleep. Image credit: SJJP via Wikimedia

Unwanted unpleasant thoughts are an everyday occurrence to many and it doesn’t necessarily signal some sort of a mental illness. You see a speeding car and suddenly you remember a crash that you had some years ago. Someone gets seriously sick and you start thinking that it might be you next time. Healthy people usually deal with intrusive thoughts pretty easily – you sort of just shake them off. However, some people really struggle to suppress them.

Now scientists invited sixty healthy people to participate in this study. They had to learn to associate faces with photographs of emotionally negative scenes or neutral scenes. Then participants had a night to sleep and were shown those pictures again. Scientists found that those people who were well-rested dealt with intrusive thoughts much more easily. In fact, sleep deprived participants suffered an increase in unwanted thoughts of nearly 50% compared to their well-rested counterparts. Those who slept well were able to view those negative scenes with a much more positive light, which is a very important ability for your mental health.

Healthy sleep is incredibly important for us. If lack of sleep causes intrusive thoughts, intrusive thoughts can disturb sleeping patterns and cause other health issues. Dr Scott Cairney, senior author of the study, said: “The study also suggests that the onset of intrusive thoughts and emotional disturbances following bouts of poor sleep could create a vicious cycle, whereby upsetting intrusions and emotional distress exacerbate sleep problems, inhibiting the sleep needed to support recovery”.

Although intrusive thoughts can bother healthy people as well, scientists say that these results are especially important for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. Scientists say that health professionals should recognize that and try to improve patients’ sleep to help them deal with unwanted thoughts.

More research will follow. However, this could be one of those things that will encourage you to pay more attention to your sleeping habits. Set a bedtime for yourself, don’t use screens before sleep, improve your beddings. Do everything you can to sleep for longer and nicer.


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