Deep Sleep as Treatment for Anxiety
Sat, April 10, 2021

Deep Sleep as Treatment for Anxiety

Sleepless nights can actually trigger a 30% rise in anxiety levels, which is why most people who are not getting enough sleep are usually also stressed out / Photo by: Doucefleur via Shutterstock

 

Sleepless nights can actually trigger a 30% rise in anxiety levels, which is why most people who are not getting enough sleep are usually also stressed out. In a national survey in the United States, 40% of respondents said they are not getting enough sleep and they also show signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress. Without deep sleep or relaxation, this can resort to a poorer quality of life and disables people from coping with chronic stress. 

What Is Deep Sleep?

According to Medical News Today, a medical news website, the body first cycles through three non-REM stages of sleep. The first stage is a transition period in which the body and brain shift from a state of wakefulness to one of sleep, this usually only lasts for a few minutes and sleep is still fairly light. At this stage, the body starts to slow its rhythm down and the heart rate and blood pressure slow down as well. 

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains that the second stage of the non-REM sleep is the stage where most humans spend most of their time during the whole sleep cycle. This is when the muscles relax more, the eye movement stops, and the body temperature goes down. The brain waves slow down but small bursts of electrical signals may still occur.

In the third stage of the non-REM sleep, the body completes a few cycles throughout the night and it may be difficult to wake someone up from this stage of sleep. Lastly, the fourth and final stage of the sleep cycle is the REM stage -- during this stage, the eyes dart back and forth behind closed eyelids. The brain waves start to resemble the brain waves of wakeful state and it is also when most of the dream occurs. 

Overcoming Anxiety With Deep Sleep

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley claim that the type of sleep most needed to calm and reset the anxious mind is deep sleep, otherwise known as the non-rapid eye movement slow-wave sleep; it is when the neural oscillations become highly synchronized and when the heart rate and blood pressure drop. 

According to the senior author of the study and a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology, Matthew Walker, deep sleep seems to be the most natural anxiolytic as long as people can get it every night. The study was published in the Nature Human Behavior journal and it is said to provide the strongest neural links between deep sleep and anxiety levels. 

Researchers claim that sleep is a natural non-pharmaceutical remedy for anxiety disorders and it should be utilized properly and advocated for, especially since there are 40 million American adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and more so around the world. The team led an experiment of using MRI and polysomnography and scanned 18 young adults as they viewed emotionally stirring video clips after a full night sleep. The same experiment was repeated but this time, after a sleepless night. The anxiety levels of the participants were measured following each session using a state-trait anxiety inventory, as reported on Science Daily, a neuroscience and human behavior news website. 

The results show that after a night of no sleep, the brain scans illustrated that there was a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex -- this usually helps anxiety levels at a low to moderate level, and without this, the brain’s ability to control anxiety is weak. Consequently, the brain’s deeper emotional centers were on hyperdrive. The lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley Eti Ben Simon explained that their study suggests that insufficient sleep increases levels of anxiety, meanwhile, deep sleep can reduce such levels. 

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley claim that the type of sleep most needed to calm and reset the anxious mind is deep sleep, otherwise known as the non-rapid eye movement slow-wave sleep / Photo by: Andrey_Popov via Shutterstock

 

Furthermore, the researchers replicated their experiment with another 30 participants. Across all of them, the results show again that those who had more deep sleep during the night experienced the lowest levels of anxiety the next day. It again reaffirms their previous findings that the amount of sleep a person gets during the night can predict how anxious they will feel the next day. According to Simon, people with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, however, sleep improvement is rarely considered as a clinical recommendation for effectively lowering anxiety. Their study thus further establishes the connection between sleep and anxiety and how deep sleep can definitely calm the anxious mind. 

Walker further adds that their findings suggest that the decimation of sleep throughout the most industrialized nations also marked the increase of anxiety disorders and perhaps this is not coincidental but it is causally related. There is a relationship between the lack of sleep under a high-stress environment and the increase of anxiety levels. 

Anxiety disorders can be managed by therapy and medication -- it should also be acknowledged that the medical prescription of having a healthy and proper sleep during the night can be one of the effective treatments for anxiety disorders, as clearly shown in the team’s research.