A Longitudinal Examination of Bidirectional Associations between Subjective Sleep Characteristics and Psychosocial Functioning among University Students
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A number of studies have found a significant link between sleep and psychosocial functioning among university students. A critical examination of this literature, however, indicates that one important gap within the literature is the need for longitudinal studies that specifically test for bidirectional associations between these two constructs. The main purpose of my dissertation was to address this gap by conducting three studies that examined bidirectional associations between sleep and psychosocial functioning among a sample of university students. Participants were 942 (71.5% female) undergraduate students enrolled at a Canadian university, who completed survey assessments annually for three consecutive years, beginning in their first year of university. In the first study, I assessed bidirectional associations between two sleep characteristics (sleep quality and sleep duration) and three psychosocial functioning variables (academics, friendship quality, and intrapersonal adjustment). Results based on cross-lagged models indicated a significant bidirectional association between sleep quality and intrapersonal adjustment, such that more sleep problems predicted more negative intrapersonal adjustment over time, and vice versa. Unidirectional associations indicated that both higher academic achievement and more positive friendship quality were significant predictors of less sleep problems over time. In the second study, in which I examined bidirectional associations between sleep and media use, results provided support only for unidirectional associations; such that more sleep problems predicted increases in both time spent watching television and time spent engaged in online social networking. In the third study of my dissertation, in which I examined social ties at university and sleep quality, results indicated a significant bidirectional association, such that more positive social ties predicted less sleep problems over time, and vice versa. Importantly, emotion regulation was a significant mediator of this association. Findings across the three studies, highlight the importance of determining the direction of effects between different sleep characteristics and various aspects of university students’ psychosocial functioning, as such findings have important implications for both methodology and practice. A better understanding of the nature of the associations between sleep and psychosocial functioning will equip students, parents and university administrators with the tools necessary to facilitate successful adjustment across the university years.