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Sleep Patterns and Affect Dynamics Among College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Intensive Longitudinal Study

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Sleep disturbance is a transdiagnostic risk factor that is so prevalent among young adults that it is considered a public health epidemic, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sleep may contribute to mental health via affect dynamics. Prior literature on the contribution of sleep to affect is largely based on correlational studies or experiments that do not generalize to the daily lives of young adults. Furthermore, the literature examining the associations between sleep variability and affect dynamics remains scant.


In an ecologically valid context, using an intensive longitudinal design, we aimed to assess the daily and long-term associations between sleep patterns and affect dynamics among young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.


College student participants (N=20; female: 13/20, 65%) wore an Oura ring (Ōura Health Ltd) continuously for 3 months to measure sleep patterns, such as average and variability in total sleep time (TST), wake after sleep onset (WASO), sleep efficiency, and sleep onset latency (SOL), resulting in 1173 unique observations. We administered a daily ecological momentary assessment by using a mobile health app to evaluate positive affect (PA), negative affect (NA), and COVID-19 worry once per day.


Participants with a higher sleep onset latency (b=-1.09, SE 0.36; P=.006) and TST (b=-0.15, SE 0.05; P=.008) on the prior day had lower PA on the next day. Further, higher average TST across the 3-month period predicted lower average PA (b=-0.36, SE 0.12; P=.009). TST variability predicted higher affect variability across all affect domains. Specifically, higher variability in TST was associated higher PA variability (b=0.09, SE 0.03; P=.007), higher negative affect variability (b=0.12, SE 0.05; P=.03), and higher COVID-19 worry variability (b=0.16, SE 0.07; P=.04).


Fluctuating sleep patterns are associated with affect dynamics at the daily and long-term scales. Low PA and affect variability may be potential pathways through which sleep has implications for mental health.

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