Most of us have experienced at least once in our lifetime what it’s like to be consumed by our own thoughts. Anxiety is excessive worrying that actually interferes with your life. If you’re feeling stressed out and think you’re spiralling out of control, you are not alone. More than 40 million Americans are diagnosed with anxiety-related disorders every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (MIMH). (1)
Deep Sleep Helps Manage Emotions
Even though there are many causes of anxiety, new research from the University of California, Berkeley (2) says that irregular sleep pattern increases the risk of this condition by 30%. The study explains further that deep sleep is very important for helping us maintain proper emotions. While there are four different phases of sleep, this paper says Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow sleep is what we need in order to calm our anxious brains. During NREM sleep, your natural internal oscillations become synchronized followed by a drop in your heart rate and blood pressure levels.
Sleep Deprivation A National Epidemic
Walker, who is one of the senior advisers for this study says that as long as we are getting enough deep sleep at night, our brain is able to naturally relax and reorganize itself to prevent anxiety. To date, this study is one of the best papers published by the journal of Natural Human Behavior that analyzes how sleep affects anxiety. Also, this research shows that it is not coincidental that the rates of anxiety and sleep disorders in the United States are rising fast especially among children and teens. The situation is so bad that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared sleep deprivation a national epidemic (3).
The researchers from UC Berkeley suggests that deep sleep might be the best non-pharmaceutical natural remedy for treating anxiety. In fact, another author of this study, Simon, says that just one night of sleeplessness can significantly increase your anxiety levels.
This study was conducted by testing participants using functional MRI and polysomnography in a series of different stages
Firstly, the brains of a group of teens were scanned while they watched videos that provoked strong emotions. The teens were then tested in the morning and asked if they’ve had a good night’s sleep and how much anxiety they were experiencing. The researchers used a state-trait anxiety inventory type of questionnaire during each session to collect the data. The results showed that when the participants had little or no sleep, their prefrontal cortex was overactive. The prefrontal cortex is the region of your brain responsible for rational thinking and keeping anxiety levels down.
The researchers tested the same participants again by placing electrodes on their heads in the morning. They found that the teens who had more NREM slow-wave sleep experienced the lowest levels of anxiety in the morning.
In the second phase, an extra 30 people were added to the sample size of the study and the same test was performed on them. The researchers found the same pattern of results with this new set of participants. The third phase of this research was an online survey. The sleeping habit and anxiety levels of 280 people from various age ranges were measured for 40 consecutive days.
Not surprisingly, the results did not change. The amount of deep sleep a person has during the night determines the level of anxiety they experience the next day. (4) For this reason, Walter advises that clinicians should consider using sleep as an option for treating anxiety.
Ideas and Tips on How to Deep Sleep
- Try a bit of honey before bed.
- Drink a cup of lavender or chamomile tea.
- Stick to a bedtime routine.
- Avoid blue light from electronic devices 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Write down your thoughts in a journal.
- Use weighted blankets.