Sleep is one of the greatest thins you can pursue for your health. Without it, you open yourself up to a myriad of serious health problems, which is a pretty obvious fact to most. But what’s not so obvious is that your mental health is also at stake when you deprive yourself of sleep.
At the recent Neuroscience 2018, an annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience held in San Diego, California, research was presented that suggested a strong link between anxiety and sleep loss.
Much recent research has been done to understand sleep’s role in things like removing the excess and unwanted brain tissue to memory consolidation and more. In the memory department, even something like a short 15-minute nap can move memories from short-term to long-term storage, helping you consolidate and store useful information. Meanwhile, in the process of sleeping, your brain sorts out chemicals and toxins that need to be cleared out to keep everything running smoothly. Without this process, your brain actually ages rapidly and you are more susceptible to develop things like Alzheimer's later in life.
“Sleep deprivation isn’t what we usually think it is,” said session moderator Clifford Saper, MD, Ph.D. of Harvard Medical School. It’s usually not “staying up 40 hours all at once,” but rather gradually losing sleep over time.
Research presented at Neuroscience 2018 showed that brain activity following sleep deprivation mirrored brain activity indicative of anxiety disorders. Specifically, the brain’s fight or flight center, the amygdala, is “aroused” during sleep deprivation. At this same time, other research presented that regions of the brain responsible for “emotion-generating” and “emotion-regulating” are particularly active during periods of sleep deprivation. Suddenly, it’s becoming more clear why something like insomnia is so often linked to depression and anxiety.
So it’s great to know this information but it doesn’t do much for the vicious cycle of sleep loss, anxiety, and stress, right? It seems as if once you have one, you’re bound to come across the other. Well, that’s the positive spin on these grim findings, actually. With researchers learning so much about the connection between sleep deprivation and anxiety, it’s opened their eyes to the importance of implementing sleep therapy in treating anxiety patients. Simply putting more effort into experts understanding how to improve our sleep can and will, in turn, improve the results of the people they help.
“The results [of the research] suggest that sleep therapy could reduce anxiety in non-clinical populations as well as people suffering from panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions,” said panelist and lead study author Eti Ben-Simon, PhD, of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. “For healthy people, research shows that one night of recovery sleep brings systems back online and brings anxiety levels back to normal.”
So at the very least, if you’ve been struggling with both anxiety and a lack of quality sleep, even getting just one or two nights of good sleep can have compounding positive effects toward turning things back in your favor.