Study finds perfectionism is linked to lower quality of sleep in teens

Photo credit: Wen Tong Neo

Poor sleep quality is associated with the personality trait of perfectionism in teenagers, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

Having a bad night’s sleep is extremely common among adolescents. Recent studies show that young adults get considerably less sleep than the recommended amount, with symptoms of poor sleep quality including anything from insomnia to daytime sleepiness. Just as common as poor sleep quality, perfectionism has been shown to play a significant role in adolescent personalities, including a strive for flawlessness and holding themselves to extremely high standards.

However, not all perfectionism is created equal. There is a significant difference between trying to achieve a goal driven by a desire for success (adaptive perfectionism) and trying to achieve high-level goals driven by a fear of negative consequences (maladaptive perfectionism).

Previous studies have explored the link between perfectionism, sleep disturbances and adults, but no studies have explicitly studied this phenomenon in adolescents.

This study focused on the correlation between perfectionism, adolescent sleep quality and repetitive negative thinking, which is one of the indicators of the three-factor model of sleep disturbances (psychiatric illness and stressful life events being the other two). ‘Worry’ and ‘rumination’ were utilized as the two main indicators of repetitive negative thinking.

The study used a questionnaire involving a sample of 1,800 Chinese adolescents and collected data on perfectionism, worry, sleep quality and rumination which was measured and statistically analyzed. The results confirm a correlation between sleep disturbances, perfectionism and repetitive negative thinking, with maladaptive perfectionists showing the poorest sleep quality of all groups.

The study also found that repetitive negative thinking is associated with poor quality of sleep, with ‘worry’ playing a much more significant factor than ‘rumination’. This could be related to the fact that rumination is usually past oriented, whereas worry is future-oriented, potentially causing higher levels of stress.

To combat symptoms of poor sleep quality, the researchers conclude that “mindfulness-based techniques of stress reduction and cognitive therapy should be considered”.

Of course, the study has some limitations, namely the participants’ subjectivity in regard to the data they provided. In addition, the researchers also stress that the demonstrated correlation between repetitive negative thinking, perfectionism and sleep disturbances is not necessarily a causal relationship.

The study, “Perfectionism and adolescent sleep quality: The mediating role of repetitive negative thinking“, was authored by Rong-Mao Lin, Shan-Shan Xie, You-Wei Yan, Yu-Hsin Chen, and Wen-Jing Yan.

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