Researchers from the Binghamton University in the US assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts (eg, worry and rumination).
Participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements.
According to the study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, the researchers discovered that regular sleep disruptions are associated with difficulty in shifting one's attention away from negative information.
This may mean that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people's lives.
"We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to," said Meredith Coles, from the Binghamton University.
"While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it," Coles said.
These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, Coles said.
"We realised over time that this might be important - this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things," said Coles.
"This is novel in that we are exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts," Coles added.