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It’s a weeknight and a new tv series that caught your attention, so you’ve decided to binge watch a few episodes only to realise there are only a few hours left before you have to get ready to go to work or school.

You might think that is not a big deal as you’ve done it before but it turns out that a sleepless night is detrimental towards your mental health as studies have found out that it can trigger up to a 30% rise in anxiety levels.

The research was conducted by the University of California, Berkeley who also pointed out that sleep is a natural, non-pharmaceutical way to soothe anxiety disorders.

How sleep reduces anxiety

In a recent journal published in Nature Human Behavior, researchers found that deep sleep is particularly effective when it comes in calming and resetting the brain.

It is known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep or dreamless sleep where your neural oscillations become highly synchronised and your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced.

We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain.

Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night.”

UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology, Matthew Walker.

How the research was conducted

The researchers came to the conclusion after a series of experiments were conducted using a functional MRI and polysomnography, among other measures where the researchers scanned the brains of 18 young adults.

As part of the experiment, the respondents also viewed emotionally stirring video clips after a full night of sleep, and again after a sleepless night.

Anxiety levels were measured following each session via a questionnaire known as the state-trait anxiety inventory.

Image result for polysomnography
Picture Credit : Sleep Apnea Guide

The outcome of the experiment

Our study strongly suggests that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress

Postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, Eti Ben Simon.

They found out that after a night without sleep, brain scans show a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex, which helps to keep our anxiety in check, while the brain’s deeper emotional centers were overactive.

Without sleep, they said, the brain goes on an emotional overdrive.

After a full night of sleep, the results show their anxiety levels declined significantly, especially for those who experienced more NREM sleep.

Deep sleep restores the brain’s prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, thus lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety.

The researchers even tried to replicate the results in a study of another 30 participants.

What they discovered was the same as the prior experiment where the results again showed that those who get more nighttime deep sleep experienced the lowest levels of anxiety the next day.

There were correlations between the amount and quality of sleep the participants get from one night to the next predicted how anxious they would feel the next day.

Even subtle nightly changes in sleep affected their anxiety levels.

People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety.

Our study not only establishes a causal connection between sleep and anxiety, but it identifies the kind of deep NREM sleep we need to calm the overanxious brain.

Postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, Eti Ben Simon.

On a societal level

Based on the findings, the researchers suggest the lack of sleep experienced by people throughout most industrialized nations has an effect on the increase in anxiety disorders and it’s causally related.

So based on the research, it’s safe to say that if you want to lessen your anxiety, sleep more.


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(Stressed to the max? Deep sleep can rewire the anxious brain)
(Overanxious and underslept)

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