Individuals who have disturbed sleep, short sleep, or long sleep are at increased risk for a variety of long-term negative consequences, including early mortality. Individuals who have experienced marital separation or divorce also demonstrate increased morbidity and all-cause mortality over the remainder of life, and there is growing interest in the possibility that disruptions in important health behaviors play a critical role in driving poor health outcomes. Although these broad-based epidemiological effects are well-replicated, relatively little is known about the psychological or behavioral mechanisms that explain (i.e., mediate) the divorce-health association. Using a longitudinal framework that integrates multiple methodologies, the proposed research addresses this limitation by examining psychological distress, sleep, and social engagement outcomes in a sample of 120 participants (from 18 to 70 years of age, equal numbers of men and women). At monthly assessments across 5 months, participants will complete a psychological assessment battery and one week of sleep diaries. At the first, third, and fifth months, all participants will wear a wrist-watch sized actiwatch for one week that measures activity and can be used to derive objective assessment of when and how well individuals sleep. During that week participants also will wear the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), which is a naturalistic observation sampling tool that periodically records snippets of ambient sounds from participants'momentary environments. Sampled sound bites are then coded for aspects of participants'interactions that are expected to play a critical role for adjustment to separation and divorce. The research is guided by the following specific aims: (1) To examine how initial levels of sleep disturbance and EAR-indexed behavioral indicators of social engagement moderate changes in psychological distress following divorce;(2) To investigate potential time-varying mediating processes linking sleep, social engagement, and psychological distress;and, (3) to explore potential dynamic associations between sleep and divorce-related psychological distress over the 5 month study period using recent advances in structural equation modeling. The findings will help illuminate how the common life stressor of divorce translates to health/illness outcomes while also providing important basic knowledge about how sleep, social, and psychological changes operate together over time.

Public Health Relevance

Divorce is among the most stressful life events a person can experience, and a significant proportion of adults develop diagnosable mental and physical health problems following the end of marriage. By collecting sleep, social engagement, distress measures for five months from 120 recently separated individuals, this project seeks an improved understanding of why some people are at elevated risk for poor health outcomes over time. A better understanding of the associations between the psychological stress, social behavior, and sleep is critical for developing improved prevention and treatment programs following marital separation and divorce.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-L (50))
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King, Rosalind B
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University of Arizona
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Milek, Anne; Butler, Emily A; Tackman, Allison M et al. (2018) ""Eavesdropping on Happiness"" Revisited: A Pooled, Multisample Replication of the Association Between Life Satisfaction and Observed Daily Conversation Quantity and Quality. Psychol Sci 29:1451-1462
Grinberg, Austin M; O'Hara, Karey L; Sbarra, David A (2018) Preliminary evidence of attenuated blood pressure reactivity to acute stress in adults following a recent marital separation. Psychol Health 33:430-444
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Mehl, Matthias R (2017) The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR): A Method for the Naturalistic Observation of Daily Social Behavior. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 26:184-190
Bourassa, Kyle J; Hasselmo, Karen; Sbarra, David A (2016) Heart Rate Variability Moderates the Association Between Separation-Related Psychological Distress and Blood Pressure Reactivity Over Time. Psychol Sci 27:1123-35
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Sbarra, David A; Hasselmo, Karen; Bourassa, Kyle J (2015) Divorce and Health: Beyond Individual Differences. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 24:109-113
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