Sleep and stress in adolescents: the roles of pre-sleep arousal and coping during school and vacation.
This study explored the relationship between stress and actigraphy-measured and self-reported sleep in adolescents during periods of restricted (school) and unrestricted (vacation) sleep opportunities. We further examined whether (1) cognitive pre-sleep arousal (PSA) mediated the relationship between stress and sleep onset latency (SOL), and (2) coping moderated the effect of stress on PSA.
Participants were 146 (77 females) adolescents (M = 16.2, SD = 1.0) recruited from the community. Actigraphy assessed daily sleep over the last week of a school-term and the following two-week vacation. The following self-report measures were administered during both school and vacation: the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Inventory of High-School Students Recent Life Experiences (stress), Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale, and the Brief COPE (coping).
Path analyses showed that during both school and vacation, higher cognitive PSA mediated the relationship between higher stress and longer self-report SOL (p < 0.01). During vacation, higher PSA also mediated the relationship between higher stress and longer actigraphy SOL (p < 0.05). During vacation (but not school), problem-focused coping moderated the mediating effects of PSA (p < 0.05), such that more frequent use of coping was associated with weaker association between stress and cognitive PSA, and shorter actigraphy and self-report SOL.
Cognitive PSA and coping may be two modifiable factors influencing how stress affects adolescents’ sleep onset. Interventions that reduce cognitive arousal at bedtime may therefore shorten adolescents’ sleep onset during both school and vacation. Further, the use of problem-focused coping strategies might be protective against the effects of stress on sleep onset, especially during vacation periods.
This paper expands the understanding of the stress-sleep association in adolescents by examining the mediating role of cognitive pre-sleep arousal and the moderating effects of coping. By examining these associations during both school and vacation periods, findings are likely to be applicable to both restricted and relatively unconstrained sleep conditions. Practically, our findings suggest that interventions directed towards the reduction of cognitive pre-sleep arousal may improve adolescents’ sleep onset latency. Additionally, fostering healthy coping, especially problem-focused coping strategies such as problem solving, may mitigate the effects of stress on adolescents’ sleep.
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