Can political events have any impact on psychological health, as well as sleep and emotional well-being? Yes they do with a new study from researchers of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) stating that p[olitical events can influence the emotions and sleep.
The researchers show how major socio-political events can have global effects on sleep that are associated with significant changes in the general population’s mood, well-being, and alcohol consumption. The findings, which were published in the journal Sleep Health of the National Sleep Foundation, demonstrate how divisive political events have a detrimental impact on a broad range of factors relating to the public mood.
“It is unlikely that these findings will come as shock to many given the political turbulence of the last several years,” said corresponding author Tony Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at BIDMC. “Our results likely mirror many of our own experiences surrounding highly stressful events, and we felt this was an opportunity to scientifically validate these assumptions.”
In the study, the researchers 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 (days surrounding the election) as part of a larger study investigating the sleep and psychological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The participants reported their sleep duration and quality, alcohol consumption, and subjective overall stress experience. Their replies demonstrated decreased sleep quantity and efficiency, as well as increased stress, negative mood, and increased alcohol consumption in the period surrounding the election. While similar findings were seen at a lower level in non-US participants, worsening health habits were only shown to be significantly correlated with mood and stress among US residents.
With regard to sleep, both U.S. and non-U.S. participants reported losing sleep in the run-up to the election. They said that US respondents had significantly less time in bed on the days around the election. On Election night itself, the US participants reported waking up frequently during the night and experiencing poorer sleep efficiency. The participants from the US, who ever reported drinking alcohol significantly, increased consumption on three days during the assessment period – Halloween, Election Day, and the day the election was called by more media outlets. Among non-US participants, there was no change in alcohol consumption over the November assessment period.
The researchers also found that stress levels were largely consistent for both US and non-US participants in the assessment period in early October, but found sharp rise in reported stress for both groups in the days leading up to the November 3 election. Stress levels dropped dramatically once the election was officially called on November 7.
U.S. participants reported a similar pattern with depression that their non-U.S. counterparts did not experience; however, non-U.S. participants reported significant decreases in negative mood and depression the day after the election was called.
“This is the first study to find that there is a relationship between the previously reported changes in Election Day public mood and sleep the night of the election,” Cunningham said. “Moreover, it is not just that elections may influence sleep, but evidence suggests that sleep may influence civic engagement and participation in elections as well. Thus, if the relationship between sleep and elections is also bidirectional, it will be important for future research to determine how public mood and stress effects sleep leading up to an election may affect or even alter its outcome.“
The authors emphasize that the interpretation of their results is limited in that the experience of the majority of participants was the buildup of election stress and subsequent response dependent on their preferred political candidate. Further research with a more representative and diverse sample is needed to confirm the impacts of political stress on public mood and sleep for the general public.
“The 2020 election took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cunningham. “Despite the chronic stress experienced during that time, the acute stress of the election still had clear impacts on mood and sleep. As such, research exploring the impact of the pandemic should also consider other overlapping, acute stressors that may exert their own influence to avoid inappropriately attributing effects to the pandemic.”