Sleep Quality as a Mediator of the Relationship Between Attachment Anxiety and Health Outcomes During Romantic Conflict
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Attachment anxiety, or a fear of abandonment by those close to you, is an important predictor of many individual and interpersonal outcomes. Individuals high in attachment anxiety are more likely to experience physical illness due to disrupted immune functioning and deregulated stress responses. I was interested in examining potential mechanisms accounting for why individuals high in attachment anxiety are more likely to become ill. One variable that has been demonstrated to mediate the relationship between stress and health is sleep quality. As attachment anxiety is characterized by the experience of stress and worry over abandonment by romantic partners, I predicted sleep quality would mediate the relationship between attachment anxiety and health. Further, I predicted attachment anxiety would interact with romantic threat, in that individuals high in attachment anxiety who perceive threat to their relationships would have poor sleep quality (compared with individuals low in attachment anxiety and individuals high in anxiety who do not perceive threat) which would mediate the most unhealthy outcomes. I tested these hypotheses using three online diary studies. In the first two studies, participants completed a seven-night diary describing their sleep quality, health, and interaction with their partner. In Study 3, I surveyed participants once a week for eight weeks to examine longer-term health outcomes. Sleep quality did indeed mediate the relationship between attachment anxiety and various health outcomes over one week (Study 2), and showed a trend towards mediating effects over two months (Study 3). Interestingly, however, attachment anxiety did not interact with perceived romantic threat to predict health in the mediation analyses. Implications for sleep as a mediating variable are discussed, as well as the lack of attachment anxiety by romantic threat interaction.