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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Vigilant attention to threat, sleep patterns, and anxiety in peripubertal youth.

  • Author(s): Ricketts, Emily J
  • Price, Rebecca B
  • Siegle, Greg J
  • Silk, Jennifer S
  • Forbes, Erika E
  • Ladouceur, Cecile D
  • Harvey, Allison G
  • Ryan, Neal D
  • Dahl, Ronald E
  • McMakin, Dana L
  • et al.

BACKGROUND:Vigilant attention to threat is commonly observed in anxiety, undergoes developmental changes in early adolescence, and has been proposed to interfere with sleep initiation and maintenance. We present one of the first studies to use objective measures to examine associations between vigilant attention to threat and difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep in an early adolescent anxious sample. We also explore the moderating role of development (age, puberty) and sex. METHODS:Participants were 66 peripubertal youth (ages 9-14) with a primary anxiety disorder and 24 healthy control subjects. A dot-probe task was used to assess attentional bias to fearful relative to neutral face stimuli. Eye-tracking indexed selective attentional bias to threat, and reaction time bias indexed action readiness to threat. Sleep was assessed via actigraphy (e.g. sleep onset delay, wake after sleep onset, etc.), parent report (Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire), and child report (Sleep Self-Report). The Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale assessed anxiety severity. RESULTS:Eye-tracking initial threat fixation bias (β = .33, p = .001) and threat dwell time bias (β = .22, p = .041) were positively associated with sleep onset latency. Reaction time bias was positively associated with wake after sleep onset (β = .24, p = .026) and parent-reported sleep disturbance (β = .25, p = .019). Anxiety (severity, diagnosis) was not associated with these outcomes. Sex (β = -.32, p = .036) moderated the relation between initial threat fixation bias and sleep onset latency, with a positive association for males (p = .005), but not for females (p = .289). Age and pubertal status did not moderate effects. CONCLUSIONS:Vigilant attention to threat is related to longer sleep onset and reduced sleep maintenance. These associations are not stronger in early adolescents with anxiety. Implications for early intervention or prevention that targets vigilant attention to threat to impact sleep disturbance, and vice versa, are discussed.

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