It’s long been known that a night of restful sleep restores the emotions that have been discombobulating us during the day, and resets us for the next morning. However, a night without sleep does just the opposite, according to new research from the University of California Berkeley. In fact, a night with little sleep can catalyze up to a 30% rise in anxiety.
Researchers have already found that the type of sleep most likely to calm and provide the “reset” button on a worried brain is deep sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. The state of sleep is dreamless, the breathing and heart rate are slow and regular, and the blood pressure low.
With this research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, researchers have discovered another use for deep sleep.
“We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain,” said the study’s senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology, in a release. “Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night.”
In other words, sleep is a natural, pill-free panacea for anxiety disorders, which 40 million American adults have been diagnosed with.
Sleep less, feel anxious. Sleep more, feel better, says the researchers.
“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, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.
The experiments the researchers ran on participants showed that the amount and quality of sleep participants received from one night to the next predicted how anxious they would feel the next day. Even subtle changes in their sleep made a difference.
“People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety,” Simon said.
These findings could potentially make a big difference in a world where both sleep has degraded and anxiety disorders have spiked. The UC Berkeley researcher’s work shows that these symptoms are linked.
They “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.”
Co-authors of the study are Aubrey Rossi and Allison Harvey, both at UC Berkeley.