Major cultural and political events, according to study, can have a considerable influence on psychological health, as well as sleep and emotional well-being. While popular belief says that highly anticipated events, such as elections, can generate stress and disturb well-being.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and colleagues have now demonstrated how large geopolitical events may have worldwide effects on sleep, which are related with considerable swings in the public’s collective mood, well-being, and alcohol use. The findings, published in the journal Sleep Health of the National Sleep Foundation, demonstrate that polarising political events had a detrimental impact on a wide range of characteristics associated to public mood.
“Given the political turmoil of the previous several years, it is doubtful that these findings would come as a surprise to many,” said corresponding author Tony Cunningham, PhD, director of BIDMC’s Center for Sleep and Cognition. “Our findings are likely to reflect many of our personal experiences in the aftermath of extremely stressful situations, and we saw this as an opportunity to empirically test these ideas.”
The team surveyed 437 participants in the United States and 106 international participants daily between October 1-13, 2020 (before the election) and October 30-November 12, 2020 (after the election) as part of a larger study investigating the sleep and psychological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (days surrounding the November 3 U.S. election). Participants reported on their sleep length and quality, alcohol intake, and subjective overall stress experience. Their replies demonstrated decreased sleep quantity and efficiency, as well as increased stress, bad mood, and alcohol consumption in the run-up to the election. While similar findings were seen at a lesser level in non-US participants, deteriorating health practises were only shown to be substantially linked with mood and stress among US residents.
The daily surveys, which were given each morning at 8:00 a.m. local time, asked respondents to evaluate the previous night’s sleep by documenting their bedtimes, time necessary to fall asleep, number of awakenings during the night, morning wake time, and time spent napping during the day. They also noted the prior night’s alcohol consumption. Mood was measured using a validated questionnaire as well as questions from a common depression screening instrument.
In terms of sleep, both US and non-US participants reported losing sleep in the run-up to the election; however, US respondents spent much less time in bed in the days before the election. On Election Night, participants in the United States reported waking up often during the night and having worse sleep efficiency.
Participants in the United States who had previously reported consuming alcohol increased their intake on three occasions throughout the evaluation period: Halloween, Election Day, and the day the election was declared by additional media sources, Saturday, November 7. There was no change in alcohol intake among non-US participants over the November evaluation period.
When the researchers examined how these behavioural changes may have influenced the mood and well-being of US individuals, they discovered substantial correlations between sleep and drinking, stress, bad mood, and depression.
The analysis found that stress levels for both U.S. and non-U.S. participants were relatively similar during the assessment period in early October, but there was a substantial increase in reported stress for both groups in the days running up to the November 3 election.
When the election was officially called on November 7, stress levels reduced considerably. This pattern remained true for both US and non-US residents, however changes in stress levels were much higher among US individuals.
Individuals in the United States observed a similar pattern with depression that their counterparts in other countries did not; nonetheless, non-U.S. participants showed substantial declines in negative mood and depression the day after the election was called.
“This is the first study to establish a link between previously observed variations in Election Day public mood and sleep on election night,” Cunningham said. “Moreover, data shows that sleep may impact civic engagement and participation in elections, as well as elections themselves.”
Thus, if the association between sleep and elections is indeed bidirectional, future study will need to understand how public mood and stress impacts on sleep before to an election may affect or even change its outcome.”
The authors caution that the interpretation of their findings is constrained because the bulk of participants’ experience was the accumulation of election stress and subsequent response reliant on their favourite political candidate. More study with a more representative and varied sample is required to confirm the effects of political stress on general public mood and sleep.