Research Article| Volume 5, ISSUE 3, P288-297, June 2019

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Be well, sleep well: An examination of directionality between basic psychological needs and subjective sleep among emerging adults at university

Published:April 10, 2019DOI:



      The present study assessed bidirectional associations between basic psychological needs and several subjective sleep variables across 2 semesters.


      Participants completed an online survey twice (7 months apart) as part of a short-term longitudinal, correlational study.


      Participants were 154 (67.8% female) emerging adults (mean age = 20.02 years, SD = 1.71) from a liberal arts university on the east coast.


      Survey assessed demographics, perceived fulfillment of basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness), and several sleep variables (week and weekend sleep duration, sleep disturbances, daytime dysfunction, and sleep quality; Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index).


      Data were analyzed using an autoregressive cross-lagged model, which controlled for level of study, diagnosis of mental illness, self-esteem, social desirability, sleeping medication, chronotype, conscientiousness, and extraversion. Results indicated significant unidirectional associations: perceived fulfillment of basic psychological needs predicted longer week sleep duration (β = .243, P = .008) and better perceived sleep quality (β = −.223, P = .008) 1 semester later, and 1 significant bidirectional association, perceived fulfillment of basic psychological needs, predicted lower daytime dysfunction, and in turn, lower daytime dysfunction predicted higher perceived fulfillment of basic psychological needs 1 semester later.


      Although many sleep interventions focus on environmental aspects of sleep, our findings highlight the importance of nurturing university students’ psychological needs as a potential point of intervention for improving some sleep characteristics among emerging adults at university.


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