The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep in Combatting Anxiety

Health Writer

It can be a vicious cycle - you can’t sleep because you feel anxious, but then the lack of sleep increases your anxiety. When you enter this cycle, it seems never ending. You feel tired most of the time because you can’t sleep, which makes it more difficult to deal with the stress in your life; Yet every time you try to close your eyes, you start worrying, and sleep becomes elusive.

What the research says

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in people who were sleep deprived. They found that those who were “anxious by nature” suffer more harm from sleep deprivation and are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than those that are not considered anxious by nature.

During the study, researchers found that sleep deprivation caused the same regions of the brain to fire up as are active in those with anxiety disorders.

Previously, it wasn’t known whether there was a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma: Does lack of sleep lead to anxiety, or does an anxiety disorder lead to sleep deprivation? The scientists believed this study helped answer the question. They concluded that sleep loss triggers brain activity that is associated with anxiety. This has led the researchers to believe that sleep therapy might also be a viable treatment for reducing anxiety levels.

The study consisted of a small sample size of 18 participants. The researchers designed a test, where each participant was shown 90 images, which were preceded by a sign as to whether the image would be neutral or grisly. They were sometimes shown a question mark first, indicating the image could be either. The test was performed twice - one after a good night’s sleep and once after a sleepless night.

In the test after a sleepless night, participants showed increased activity in the emotional brain centers. Those participants who were naturally anxious showed an even more dramatic increase in activity in these areas. According to Matthew Walker, PhD, the lead author of the study, “The discovery illustrates how important sleep is to our mental health...both from a cause and a treatment perspective.”** What is sleep deprivation?**

Sleep deprivation simply means you don’t get enough sleep. If that’s the case, you aren’t alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere from 7 to 19 percent of adults say they don’t get enough sleep. Between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep problems. Besides increasing feelings of anxiety and depression, not getting enough sleep is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and obesity.

How much sleep you need varies through your lifespan. However, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 26 and 64 get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night (with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 10 hours). Adults 65 and older should be sleeping between 7 and 8 hours each night (with a minimum of 5-6 and a maximum of 9).

Tips for a better night’s sleep

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.

  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as a warm bath or reading in bed before turning off the lights.

  • Turn off electronic screens about an hour before going to bed. The blue light of electronics can signal “wake messages” to your brain, keeping you more alert.

  • Exercise each day. Complete your exercise routine early in the day or at least one hour prior to bedtime. Exercising too close to bedtime can actually keep you awake.

  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. Set the temperature so you are comfortable, use relaxing sounds and determine the level of light that provides the most comfort. Make sure your mattress and pillow is comfortable.

If you still have trouble falling asleep it might be time to talk with your doctor about other treatments and options.** See more helpful articles on getting a good night’s sleep:**

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

10 Things to Know About Getting Better Sleep

Alternatives to Sleeping Pills

Six Tips for Getting a Good Night's Sleep

25 Tips for Getting A Good Night's Sleep with Anxiety


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.