DOI: 10.1002/smi.3310 ISSN:

Disruptions in self‐regulatory processes predict depression and sleep disturbance in bereaved young adults

Lucy Finkelstein‐Fox, Crystal L. Park, Inge‐Marie Eigsti, Sayaka Awao, Anthony D. Mancini
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • General Medicine


Losing a loved one is both common and profoundly stressful for young adults. Little research has examined the longitudinal course of post‐loss cognitive processing, depression, and sleep difficulties. Further, little is known about the context of other stressors or the role of individual regulatory resources, such as attentional regulation, that might determine whether loss‐related cognitive processing reduces distress. This prospective study examined changes in depression and sleep disturbance over 9 weeks as a function of within‐ and between‐person variation in stress exposure, loss‐related cognitive processing, and attention regulation. Participants were 108 recently bereaved college students completing a lab‐based assessment of attention regulation and four self‐report surveys, spaced three weeks apart. Results revealed that most participants gradually reduced loss‐related processing over the study period, with corresponding improvements in depression and sleep. Stress exposure was associated with increased processing, depression, and sleep disturbance. In exploratory analyses, high attentional alertness and slow re‐orienting strengthened the association of within‐person loss processing with sleep disturbance. Both within‐ and between‐person variation in stress appear to engender risk for a prolonged course of bereavement. Future research should integrate objective attention measures with self‐reported adjustment to stress to illuminate reciprocal links between depression, sleep, and loss‐related cognitive processing.

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