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Sleep disruption is a common precursor to deterioration and relapse in people living with psychotic disorders. Understanding the temporal relationship between sleep and psychopathology is important for identifying and developing interventions which target key variables that contribute to relapse.
We used a purpose-built digital platform to sample self-reported sleep and psychopathology variables over 1 year, in 36 individuals with schizophrenia. Once-daily measures of sleep duration and sleep quality, and fluctuations in psychopathology (positive and negative affect, cognition and psychotic symptoms) were captured. We examined the temporal relationship between these variables using the Differential Time-Varying Effect (DTVEM) hybrid exploratory-confirmatory model.
Poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration maximally predicted deterioration in psychosis symptoms over the subsequent 1–8 and 1–12 days, respectively. These relationships were also mediated by negative affect and cognitive symptoms. Psychopathology variables also predicted sleep quality, but not sleep duration, and the effect sizes were smaller and of shorter lag duration.
Reduced sleep duration and poorer sleep quality anticipate the exacerbation of psychotic symptoms by approximately 1–2 weeks, and negative affect and cognitive symptoms mediate this relationship. We also observed a reciprocal relationship that was of shorter duration and smaller magnitude. Sleep disturbance may play a causal role in symptom exacerbation and relapse, and represents an important and tractable target for intervention. It warrants greater attention as an early warning sign of deterioration, and low-burden, user-friendly digital tools may play a role in its early detection.