Emotion Regulation as a Potential Mechanism Explaining the Link between Chronotype and Alcohol Use

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Briana/J Taylor
thesis / dissertation description
Evening chronotype is strongly associated with greater alcohol use, though mechanisms underlying this association are not well understood. Difficulties with emotion regulation may be involved. Evening chronotypes report less emotional stability and are at increased risk for psychopathology associated with poor emotional control. The current study evaluated chronotype differences in emotion regulation using a standardized laboratory task and evaluated emotion regulation as a potential mechanism linking evening chronotype and alcohol use. Eighty-one undergraduates from the University of Pittsburgh were studied. Chronotype was assessed using the Composite Scale of Morningness. Alcohol use was reported daily using an online diary and the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). Participants completed an emotion regulation task, within two hours of their habitual wake-time, wherein they attempted to down-regulate negative and up-regulate positive emotions while viewing emotionally-charged images. Self-reported affect, heart rate variability (HF-HRV), and pre-ejection period (PEP) were measured throughout the task. Thirty-one evening chronotypes were compared to 50 intermediate chronotypes. Evening chronotypes reported significantly greater symptoms of alcohol use disorder (F = 4.399, p = 0.039). There were no chronotype differences in self-reported affect, HF-HRV, or PEP during the emotion regulation task. Longer sleep duration on non-free days was associated with increased HF-HRV during negative emotion regulation among intermediate chronotypes. Earlier testing sessions were associated with increased HF-HRV during negative emotion regulation among evening chronotypes. Moderated mediation revealed that emotion regulation did not mediate the association between evening chronotype and alcohol use, irrespective of sleep duration on non-free days or time of testing session. This study adds to the body of literature by demonstrating that undergraduate evening chronotypes endorse greater symptoms of alcohol use disorder but not greater daily alcohol consumption. Results did not support the role of emotion regulation as a mechanism. Longer sleep duration appears to be protective for intermediate chronotypes in terms of parasympathetic control during the regulation of negative emotions. Time of day effects may indicate that evening chronotypes with earlier wake patterns exhibit better parasympathetic control when regulating negative emotions. Future studies are needed to examine the role of habitual sleep duration and timing in emotion regulation tasks.