Never fails, right? There are certain things we know we need to do to lessen the impact of our mood or anxiety disorder. But it’s those very things we often don’t do well. And to be brutally honest, at times it’s nobody’s fault but our own. Case in point, my crummy sleep…

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

Sleep isn’t my forte. It isn’t insomnia. No, it’s more about getting mentally and physically settled enough to fall asleep. It’s as though I resist it – with intention. And once I finally conk-out, there’ll be numerous awakenings throughout the night.

Sufficient deep sleep is definitely not happening. Furthermore, I know my lousy sleep hygiene is the primary contributor.

Can you relate?

I’ve known for some time I need to work on it. And now I come upon this research…

“Deep Sleep Can Rewire the Anxious Brain”

Groundbreaking sleep and anxiety research was detailed in a Berkeley News article entitled “Stressed to the max? Deep sleep can rewire the anxious brain.”

The piece reviews the work of a University of California Berkeley research team, led by study senior author Matthew Walker and lead author Eti Ben Simon. The findings were just published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

In summary, from Dr. Walker…

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.

According to the study, a sleepless night can trigger as much as a 30% increase in levels of anxiety. Of course, a good night’s sleep serves to emotionally stabilize us.

See why the research kicked my tushie?

The study skinny

does sleep affect anxietyIn a series of experiments using functional MRI, polysomnography, and more, the research team scanned the brains of 18 young adults as they viewed emotionally stirring video clips after a full night’s sleep. The scanning was repeated after a sleepless night. Levels of anxiety were then measured using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.

The brain scans following the sleepless nights showed a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex, known for helping with anxiety management. Also, the brain’s deeper emotional centers were overactive.

According to Dr. Walker…

Without sleep, it’s almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake.

After a full night’s sleep, measurements showed anxiety levels had declined significantly. This was particularly true for the participants who experienced more slow-wave non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

From Dr. Simon…

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

The work went on 

Beyond the original 18 participants, the team replicated the results in another 30.

The work was then taken beyond the lab to an online study tracking the sleep and anxiety levels of 280 participants over four consecutive days. The results showed the amount and quality of sleep from one night to the next predicted how anxious the participants would feel the next day.

Dr. Simon nicely summarizes the study results…

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.

The study heavily emphasized NREM sleep. So what is it? Here’s some great information on the entire sleep cycle. And here’s much more on deep sleep. As always, how are we going to address something if we don’t know what it is?

That’s that

Come on, you know as well as I do that rising above mood and anxiety disorders requires a customized combo approach. Maybe it’s a little bit meds, some therapy, daily exercise, watching that diet, and optimizing deep sleep. Right?

Hey, I understand we can’t expect ourselves to do all those things well. But I also understand we have way more management over our performance than we might like to think.

Yep, I cause myself to suck at sleep. And it looks as though I’d better get my act together…

Insufficient sleep graphic courtesy Eti Ben Simon

Here’s the original article on Berkeley News.

Hundreds upon hundreds of Chipur articles are but a tap away. Check out the titles.

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