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Experienced Demand Does Not Affect Subsequent Sleep and the Cortisol Awakening Response

Authors Elder GJ, Wetherell MA, Pollet TV, Barclay NL, Ellis JG

Received 18 September 2019

Accepted for publication 21 May 2020

Published 30 July 2020 Volume 2020:12 Pages 537—543


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 5

Editor who approved publication: Professor Steven A Shea

Greg J Elder,1 Mark A Wetherell,2 Thomas V Pollet,2 Nicola L Barclay,3 Jason G Ellis1

1Northumbria Sleep Research Laboratory, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK; 2Department of Psychology, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK; 3Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Correspondence: Greg J Elder
Northumbria Sleep Research Laboratory, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK
Tel +44 191 227 3241

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.

Keywords: stress, cortisol, polysomnography, sleep, anticipation

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