Associations Between Sleep Health and Amygdala Reactivity to Negative Facial Expressions in the UK Biobank Cohort

Biol Psychiatry. 2022 May 27;S0006-3223(22)01283-5. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.05.023. Online ahead of print.


Background: Sleep health (SH) is considered a key determinant of human physiological and psychological well-being. In line with this, previous studies have found that poor sleep is associated with various psychiatric disorders, in particular, with anxiety and depression. Although little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying these associations, recent findings suggest that essential dimensions of SH are associated with altered amygdala reactivity (AR); however, evidence to date is inconsistent and reliant on small sample sizes.

Methods: To address this problem, the current preregistered study investigated associations between SH and AR to negative facial expressions in the UK Biobank cohort (25,758 participants). Drawing on a large sample size and consistent data acquisition, 5 dimensions of SH (insomnia symptoms, sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, chronotype, and sleep medication) were examined.

Results: Exploratory analyses revealed that short sleep duration was associated with decreased AR. The remaining SH dimensions and a composite measure of all SH dimensions were not associated with AR.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the largest study to test associations between SH and AR. Habitual short sleep duration may be associated with decreased AR, possibly indicating compensation for impaired prefrontal processes and hampered emotion regulation.

Keywords: Amygdala reactivity; Emotion regulation; Emotional reactivity; Sleep duration; Sleep health; UK Biobank.