The Superpower of Sleep: Poor Sleep Quality Predicts Worse Executive Control Under Conditions of Stress
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Science (BS)
Meghan E. Quinn
Madelyn H. Labella
R. Kelly Crace
Background: Over 60% of college students do not obtain the minimum recommended amount of sleep daily and over 54% experience above average levels of stress. Exposure to stress and poor sleep are each related to executive control, which is a set of cognitive abilities that are essential for daily functioning. Despite the prevalence of poor sleep and high stress, studies have rarely examined the joint impact of sleep and stress on executive control in students.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine whether the impairing effect of stress on executive control is stronger in individuals who obtain poor sleep.
Method: 76 undergraduate students recruited from William & Mary were randomly assigned to complete either a stress induction or a control task. Executive control was measured after the stress induction and control task. Self-reported sleep and actigraphy were tracked for a week prior to laboratory tasks.
Results: Sleep quality on the previous night did not predict executive control measured under control or stress conditions. Whereas average sleep quality did not predict executive control measured under control conditions, poor average sleep quality predicted worse executive control under conditions of stress.
Conclusion: Sleep quality impacts the extent to which executive control is impaired by stress. Due to the importance of executive control and the common experience of poor sleep and stress, specific interventions should focus on supporting students in obtaining sufficient sleep.
Keywords: Executive control, stress, sleep quality, college
McClendon, Lilly M., "The Superpower of Sleep: Poor Sleep Quality Predicts Worse Executive Control Under Conditions of Stress" (2023). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1939.