Sleep Tight to Fight Anxiety

Keeping up a whole night accelerates the anxiety levels up to 30% and it is proven.

Sleep Tight to Fight Anxiety
Sleep Tight to Fight Anxiety

Sleep Tight to Fight Anxiety 


Good sleep can fight anxiety disorders. William Shakespeare’s one of the greatest works is “Macbeth.” According to Macbeth, the central figure of the drama says about sleep that it is "balm of hurt minds" indicating it can alleviate anxiety. A full night of sleep stabilizes emotions. But anxiety levels may rise up to 30% by keeping up the whole night. It is scientifically proven with the latest research held at the University of California, Berkeley.     


The researchers discovered that deep sleep is the most important factor that calm and reset the anxious brain. Deep sleep is also known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep. In this state heart rate and blood pressure drops. The neural oscillations also become highly coincided. 


Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley. He is the senior author of this research project. He says, "We have identified a new function of a 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." 


The results of the research were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. There is strong neural bondage between sleep and anxiety. They also hint that sleep is a kind of non-pharmaceutical and natural remedy lessening anxiety disorders. This remedy has been used to diagnose about 40 million Americans. Its use is also rising to keep children and teens healthy.      

Eli Ben Simon is a postdoctoral fellow who works in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley. He says "Our study strongly suggests that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress." 


To scan the brains of 18 young adults, Simon and fellow researchers used functional MRI and polysomnography. Before the test, the volunteers were allowed to have a full night’s sleep. Then they watched emotionally stirring video clips. It was done again. But this time, they spent a sleepless night. Researchers measured anxiety levels in both sessions. State-trait anxiety inventory is a set of questionnaires to complete the test. 


The medial prefrontal cortex seems ‘off’ in the brain scans after a night without sleep. The cortex is influential to keep our anxiety level on the track. The sleepless nights also cause deeper emotional centers to become overactive.  


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


The research team placed electrodes on their heads in the second experiment when they had a full night sleep. It was done to measure the brain waves of the participants. There was a significant decline in the anxiety levels than that of the previous one. The more slow-wave the NREM sleep is, the lower the anxiety levels are. 


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


After completing successful research on 18 volunteers, the team took 30 young people for further study. There was no variation in the pattern of the experiments and results. That means the volunteer who got much time to have a sound sleep showed the least anxiety level the next day. 


They also attempted online study besides the lab experiments. In this study, they got results from 280 people of different ages. They were tested for four consecutive days to see the change of sleep and anxiety levels.   


This result shows the amount and quality of sleep influence the anxiety level of the next day. Even a slight change in the sleep can affect the anxiety level of any person.    


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


On a societal level, "the findings suggest that the decimation of sleep throughout most industrialized nations and the marked escalation in anxiety disorders in these same countries is perhaps not coincidental, but causally related," Walker said. "The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night of sleep."


Aubrey Rossi and Allison Harvey are the co-authors of the study and both of them are at UC Berkeley.