Exploring the relationship between sleep quality, emotional well-being and aggression levels in a European sample

Published date10 July 2017
Date10 July 2017
AuthorLara Freitag,Jane L. Ireland,Isabella J.M. Niesten
Exploring the relationship between sleep
quality, emotional well-being and
aggression levels in a European sample
Lara Freitag, Jane L. Ireland and Isabella J.M. Niesten
Purpose Sleep deprivation is well known to negatively affect mood, cognition and behaviour. The purpose
of this paper is to explore the relationship between sleep quantity, subjective sleep quality and aggression,
hostility and well-being levels among adults in a non-clinical population.
Design/methodology/approach In total, 201 participants aged 18 and above from Germany, UK and the
Netherlands completed an online survey consisting of a Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index along with measures
of psychological well-being, implicit and explicit aggression, and intent attributions.
Findings Sleep disturbances were related to decreased levels of psychological well-being. Subjective poor
sleep quality predicted increased hostile attributions. The overall sleep experience, however, was not
associated with aggression levels. Nevertheless, both a poor sleep experience and low sleep quality were
related to increased reactive aggression, but only in British participants.
Practical implications The importance of perceived sleep quality rather than sleep quantity in predicting
hostile and aggressive behaviours is indicated. The quality of sleep and perception of this quality should be
the focus of clinical intervention to limit unwanted behavioural impacts. The importance of accounting for
sleep quality perception in intervention that examines attributional biases such as hostility is indicated.
Differences across countries should be identified and accommodated for in intervention.
Originality/value This is the first study to consider a role for sleep quality (including perception) and sleep
quantity in relation to aggression and hostility in a cross-country European sample.
Keywords Psychological well-being, Hostility and sleep, PSQI, Sleep and aggression, Sleep quality,
Sleep quantity
Paper type Research paper
Sleep has an important role in both physical and psychological well-being, with sleep deprivation
impacting on cognitive abilities, emotional states such as anger, sadness and fear, and general
psychological well-being (e.g. Steptoe et al., 2008; Franzen et al., 2009; Walker, 2009).
In addition, poor sleep quality is associated with reduced attention and memory, increased
irritability, impatience, inner tension, depression and anxiety (Buboltz et al., 2001), with those
presenting with increased trait hostility shown to have particular difficulties with sleep quality
(Taylor et al., 2013). OBrien et al. (2001) further showed that sleepiness in students, resulting
from poor sleep quality, could even predict conduct problems and aggression in school;
students who regularly engaged in bullying or other aggressive behaviours were found more
likely to exhibit daytime sleepiness than their non-aggressive classmates.
Theoretical underpinnings of aggression, such as the General Aggression Model
(GAM; Anderson and Bushman, 2002), suggest cognition as a key element in the promotion
of an aggressive response. According to the GAM, aggression largely depends on how an
individual perceives and interprets the environment, on their expectations, and their knowledge
and beliefs concerning how others will typically respond in certain situations. One potentially key
element linking cognition and aggression are hostile attribution biases. This describes the
tendency to interpret othersambiguous behaviour as having hostile intent (Nasby et al., 1980)
and reacting accordingly. It can have a trait basis (Taylor et al., 2013). This apparent hostile bias
Received 4 August 2016
Revised 22 October 2016
Accepted 24 October 2016
Lara Freitag is based at the
Faculty of Psychology and
Neuroscience, Maastricht
University, Maastricht,
The Netherlands.
Jane L. Ireland is a Professor at
the School of Psychology,
University of Central
Lancashire, Preston, UK and
Ashworth Research Centre,
Mersey Care NHS Trust,
Liverpool, UK.
Isabella J.M. Niesten is a PhD
Candidate at the Faculty of
Psychology and Neuroscience,
Maastricht University,
Maastricht, The Netherlands.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-08-2016-0239 VOL. 9 NO. 3 2017, pp.167-177, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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