Externalizing Behaviors and Callous-Unemotional Traits: Different Associations With Sleep Quality

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Abstract

Study Objectives

Sleep quality is associated with different aspects of psychopathology, but relatively little research has examined links between sleep quality and externalizing behaviors or callous-unemotional traits. We examined: (1) whether an association exists between sleep quality and externalizing behaviors; (2) whether anxiety mediates this association; (3) whether callous-unemotional traits are associated with sleep quality.

Methods

Data from two studies were used. Study 1 involved 1556 participants of the G1219 study aged 18-27 years (62% female). Questionnaire measures assessed sleep quality, anxiety, externalizing behaviors, and callous-unemotional traits. Study 2 involved 338 participants aged 18-66 years (65% female). Questionnaires measured sleep quality, externalizing behaviors, and callous-unemotional traits. In order to assess objective sleep quality, actigraphic data were also recorded for a week from a subsample of study 2 participants (n = 43).

Results

In study 1, poorer sleep quality was associated with greater externalizing behaviors. This association was partially mediated by anxiety and moderated by levels of callous-unemotional traits. There was no significant relationship between sleep quality and callous-unemotional traits. In study 2, poorer sleep quality, as assessed via self-reported but not objective measures, was associated with higher levels of externalizing behaviors. Furthermore, in study 2, better sleep quality (indicated in both questionnaires and actigraphy measures: lower mean activity, and greater sleep efficiency) was associated with higher levels of callous-unemotional traits.

Conclusions

Self-reports of poorer sleep quality are associated with externalizing behaviors, and this association is partially mediated by anxiety. Callous-unemotional traits are not associated with poor sleep and may even be related to better sleep quality. This is an exceptional finding given that poor sleep quality appears to be a characteristic of most psychopathology.

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