Health & Wellbeing

Specific phase of sleep to best calm an anxious brain identified

Specific phase of sleep to bes...
NREM slow-wave sleep has been found to be the most effective sleep phase for reducing anxiety levels the following day
NREM slow-wave sleep has been found to be the most effective sleep phase for reducing anxiety levels the following day
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One night of sleep deprivation was found to boost anxiety levels up to 30 percent and inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex
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One night of sleep deprivation was found to boost anxiety levels up to 30 percent and inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex
NREM slow-wave sleep has been found to be the most effective sleep phase for reducing anxiety levels the following day
2/2
NREM slow-wave sleep has been found to be the most effective sleep phase for reducing anxiety levels the following day

A fascinating new study from scientists at UC Berkeley has homed in on exactly which phase of sleep seems to best keep anxiety levels in check. The research both affirms a causal association between sleep and anxiety, and suggests sleep deprivation lowers activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that helps regulate our emotions.

For well over a century scientists have observed a correlation between sleep disruption and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Only in the last few years have clear neural mechanisms been discovered helping us understand exactly what our brains are doing when we are asleep, and how physiologically disruptive sleep deprivation can be.

A new study from UC Berkeley has focused more specifically on how sleep can modulate a person’s anxiety levels. Using a number of experimental measures, including polysomnography and functional MRI, the research first found that just one night of sleep deprivation resulted in 50 percent of the study subjects reporting anxiety levels the next day equal to those detected in subjects with clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Imaging the subjects’ brains when watching emotionally-triggering videos revealed sleep deprivation causes a reduction in prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. The lower the PFC activity, the higher a person’s anxiety levels.

And even more impressively, the researchers managed to specifically home in on the phase of sleep that seems to correlate with better PFC activity the next day. A phase of sleep known as NREM (non rapid eye movement) slow-wave sleep could be directly linked with better subsequent PFC activity and reductions in anxiety.

One night of sleep deprivation was found to boost anxiety levels up to 30 percent and inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex
One night of sleep deprivation was found to boost anxiety levels up to 30 percent and inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex

"We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain," explains Matthew Walker, senior author on the new study. "Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night."

The research was able to draw a direct line between how much slow-wave sleep a subject completed overnight and their anxiety levels the next day. A larger online survey of 280 subjects revealed small night-to-night changes in sleep quality directly correlated with day-to-day changes in anxiety levels.

"People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety," says Eti Ben Simon, lead author on the study. "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."

Other recent research has affirmed the importance of this particular phase of deep sleep, suggesting it is during this specific cycle that the brain seems to wash itself of the toxic proteins often associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Walker also intriguingly hypothesizes a link between an increase in anxiety disorders seen in modern industrialized nations and shorter, more disrupted sleep patterns caused by modern lifestyles.

"... 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," concludes Walker. "The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night of sleep."

The new research was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Source: UC Berkeley

3 comments
SeaSong
How can we determine what is cause and what is effect? Normally, I have no problem falling asleep; however if I am in the first stages of getting ill, if I am trying to remember something important, or if I am worried about something in my life, I usually toss and turn, and also awaken intermittently. It is not hard for me to understand that if someone with anxiety or unresolved problems goes to bed, they will have difficulty falling asleep, and may wake up during the night and have it keep them from dozing off quickly.
Peggyrita
I lived w/ a malignant narcissist/criminal psychopath/sex addict for 19 years/didn't know. I realized I had narcolepsy around 55 yrs old or 2006. I had to deal w/ this man for a total of 48 yr because of children. When I looked back as far as I could, I had narcolepsy when I was living w/him. Could not stay up past 10:30 pm and once asleep, could not wake up til 2:30 am (In rem).If I woke up, or was awakened, I was asleep & awake. I'm wondering if part of the narcolepsy and long rem sleep was to repair all the gas lighting, lies, mumbo jumbo I went thru trying to deal with this man. I am bi-polar, but do not have much anxiety or depression. The man is dead. I now go to bed, say 11 and don't wake up till 3 am
Worzel
From personal experience, anxiety is a definite sleep destroyer, and it seems to be governments program to increase that anxiety, with their 'wars' on the many and various. Sleep can also be affected by whatever is eaten or drunk before sleep. Sleep deprivation can and does kill, so lower levels are bound to affect health, and long term, must produce greater effects. Anxiety causes the body to produce various chemicals that are designed to be helpful in an emergency, but can be very destructive long term. Dopamine deficiency, caused by serotonin deficiency causes constant anxiety, which long term can cause serious damage to internal organs, especially the heart. Anti-depressants, eg SSRI's will only exacerbate the problems. The solutions is to give your body what it needs to synthesise the serotonin, eg 5HTP.