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Sleep & anxiety: latest research & effective treatments

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

A restful night's sleep can make a world of difference for an anxious mind. Often, when grappling with anxiety, our sleep patterns and energy levels also become a challenge.

According to a study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley, the most effective form of sleep in soothing and resetting an anxious brain is deep sleep, commonly referred to as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep. During this phase, neural oscillations synchronize intensely, accompanied by a reduction in heart rates and blood pressure.

In a study by Aubrey Rossi and Allison Harvey, it was revealed that after a night of no sleep, brain scans displayed a dampening of the medial prefrontal cortex's activity—this region typically aids in moderating anxiety—while deeper emotional centers of the brain exhibited heightened activity. Rossi noted, "Without sleep, it's almost as if the brain is excessively pressing on the emotional gas pedal without enough braking." On the other hand, following a full night's sleep during which participants' brainwave activity was monitored through head-mounted electrodes, the findings indicated a notable decrease in anxiety levels, particularly for those who experienced more slow-wave NREM sleep.

Moreover, the study's results unveiled an intriguing pattern: the quantity and quality of sleep obtained from one night to the next directly influenced the participants' anxiety levels for the following day. Even subtle changes in nightly sleep had an impact on their anxiety experiences. (Full article by Yasmin Anwar

Helpful tips for a restorative night’s sleep

  • Make sleep a conscious health priority. Resist putting work, household chores or a good book ahead of event to eight hours sleep each night.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even after a bad night’s sleep or on the weekend.

  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool; about 18 degrees celsius is optimal for cooling your body toward sleep.

  • For comfort try using a hot water bottle which can mimic body heat contact or a weighted blanket to sooth your nervous system.

  • Try to use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. An hour before bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all electronic screens and devices. Blackout curtains are helpful.

  • If you struggle falling asleep try listening to a story book, yoga nidra or guided meditation. Insight Timer is a great free app with plenty of choices.

  • Try writing down all the things that are causing you to worry so that they are taken out of your mind before you go to bed.

  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns, avoiding screens and bright lights. Then, go back to bed.

  • Avoid caffeine after 1 p.m. and avoid alcohol a few hours before bed. Alcohol is a sedative, and sedation is not sleep. It also blocks your REM dream sleep, an important part of the sleep cycle.

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