More Research Needed Focusing on Circadian Preferences and Mental Health of Student-Athletes

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A preference for eveningness was significantly associated with worse overall sleep difficulties, longer sleep latency, reduced sleep satisfaction, more prolonged sleep inertia, more daytime naps, and more severe depressive symptomatology.

More Research Needed Focusing on Circadian Preferences and Mental Health of Student-Athletes

Jesse Cook

Credit: Linkedin

The rigors of balancing academics and athletics can be daunting for student-athletes, both from a sleep and a mental health perspective.1

Early morning practices, the pressure of playing major college athletics, and the dedication needed to balance both academics and athletics leads to high rates of depression, anxiety, and various sleep conditions.

In new research presented during the annual SLEEP 2023 in Indianapolis, investigators explored how circadian preferences might impact the prevalence of both sleep disorder and psychiatric conditions for student-athletes.

A team, led by Jesse Cook, University of Wisconsin-Madison, assessed the influence of circadian preference on sleep, depression, and anxiety on student-athletes based in Canada.

The Demands of Student-Athletes

Because of the demands, both academically and athletically of being a student athlete, they are at an increased risk of both sleep and mental health issues.

The circadian preference is an individuals preferred timing for sleep and wake activity. This is conceived as a continuum between the extremes of morningness and eveningness and has shown to influence both sleep and mental health.

Greater eveningness preference is mostly associated with worse outcomes, but these relationships have not been explored much in student-athletes.

The Data

In the study, the investigators examined data identified through the academic semester from Canadian institutions, with student-athletes completing the Athlete Sleep Screening Questionnaire (ASSQ), which captured sleep health characteristics, as well as the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7), and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).

The options in the ASSQ for circadian preference were Definitely-Morning, Morning, Evening, or Definitely-Evening. Each response was coded on a 0-3 scale.

The investigators used estimated associations for circadian preferences with sleep, depression, and anxiety, which were adjusted regressions controlled for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and sport type.

The study included 559 student athletes from 8 different sports with an average age of 18.9 years.

The results show 1.4% of participants reported Definitely-Morning circadian preferences, compared to 27% reporting Morning, 41.8% reporting Evening, and 19.8% reporting Definitely-Evening.

Moreover, this equated to a preference for eveningness was significantly associated with worse overall sleep difficulties (P adjusted <0.0001). This was also true for longer sleep latency (P adjusted <0.0001), reduced sleep satisfaction (P adjusted <0.0001), more prolonged sleep inertia (P adjusted <0.0001), more daytime naps (P adjusted = 0.01), and more severe depressive symptomatology (P adjusted = 0.0006).

“Greater eveningness in a sample of Canadian student-athletes associated with worse sleep and psychological characteristics, including overall sleep difficulty, sleep latency, sleep satisfaction, sleep inertia, daytime napping, and depressive symptom severity,” the authors wrote. “The results of this study provide compelling evidence that eveningness CP may predict poor mental and sleep health outcomes in student-athletes.”

Future Research

The study highlights a growing need for more research into circadian preferences, particularly for student student-athletes.

The investigators also said the results could be used to implement modifications to training schedules and team routines changes as preventative strategies for mental and sleep health problems.

References:

Jesse Cook and others, 0016 Influence of Circadian Preference on Sleep, Depression, and Anxiety in Canadian Student-Athletes, Sleep, Volume 46, Issue Supplement_1, May 2023, Pages A7–A8, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsad077.0016

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