Ever noticed how taking a nap can help you feel refreshed instantly? Or how much better you feel after a good night's sleep when you have something really important to do the morning after? Well, turns out getting the right amount of sleep can actually help keep problems like stress and anxiety at bay. Whereas a sleepless night or disturbed sleep can result in elevated levels of stress and anxiety by at least 30% and let's be honest, that is an alarming number.
A new study was conducted which found that the type of sleep that was most effective in combating stress and anxiety levels was the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep which is also known as deep sleep. In this type of sleep, neural oscillations become highly synchronised and heart rates and blood pressure levels drop.
"We have identified a new function of a deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganising connections in the brain," said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology. "Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night", he added. "Our study strongly suggests that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress," said study lead author Eti Ben Simon
For the study, the researchers used functional MRI and polysomnography as well as other methods to scan the brains of 18 young adults after they had watched an emotionally stirring video. The results were compared after the participants had gotten proper sleep and after they had a sleepless night. Following this, anxiety levels were measured using a questionnaire form.
It was found that when participants didn't get enough sleep, the area in the brain that was responsible for regulating anxiety levels shut down while the emotional area flared up. "Without sleep, it's almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake," Walker said. On the contrary, when participants had a proper night's sleep, their anxiety levels were significantly lowered (especially for those with higher levels of NREM).
"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. "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, "he added. Well, this certainly goes to prove that getting the right amount of sleep has a deeper association with anxiety levels than was previously throught. Stay tuned for more updates.