Experienced demand does not affect subsequent sleep and the cortisol awakening response

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Purpose: Stress is associated with subjective and objective sleep disturbances; however, it is not known whether stress disrupts sleep and relevant physiological markers of stress immediately after it is experienced. The present study examined whether demand, in the form of cognitive tasks, disrupted sleep and the cortisol awakening response (CAR), depending on whether it was experienced or just anticipated.

Participants and Methods: Subjective and objective sleep was measured in 22 healthy adults on three nights (Nights 0– 2) in a sleep laboratory using sleep diaries and polysomnography. Saliva samples were obtained at awakening, +15, +30, +45 and +60 minutes on each subsequent day (Day 1– 3) and CAR measurement indices were derived: awakening cortisol levels, the mean increase in cortisol levels (MnInc) and total cortisol secretion (AUCG). On Night 1, participants were informed that they were required to complete a series of demanding cognitive tasks within the sleep laboratory during the following day. Participants completed the tasks as expected or unexpectedly performed sedentary activities.

Results: Compared to the no-demand group, the demand group displayed significantly higher levels of state anxiety immediately completing the first task. There were no subsequent differences between the demand and no-demand groups in Night 2 subjective sleep continuity, objective sleep continuity or architecture, or on any Day 3 CAR measure.

Conclusion: These results indicate that sleep and the CAR are not differentially affected depending on whether or not an anticipated stressor is then experienced. This provides further evidence to indicate that the CAR is a marker of anticipation and not recovery. In order to disrupt sleep, a stressor may need to be personally relevant or of a prolonged duration or intensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-543
Number of pages7
JournalNature and Science of Sleep
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020


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