Chronic Loss Of Sleep Could Give You Clinical Anxiety:
One of the more difficult problems a person could try to solve is anything involving your mind.
And neurochemists are doing their best to create solutions to this every day.
Two of the thornier ones they try to fix for us are Depression and Anxiety.
But perfect pharmaceutical fixes so-far have been elusive, and the ones we get are not without side-effects.
But a recent study by researchers at UC Berkeley is starting to shed a little more light on how Anxiety works and how you might start fighting back against it; even without drugs…
The Key Is In The Survey:
So one of the things psychiatrists try to do before they medicate you is to get a picture of what’s going on with you.
And this assessment tries to encompass as many of the big life factors as-possible.
These often include:
1) Alcohol Intake
3) Nutritional Quality & Quantity
5) Caffeine Intake
6) Prescription Meds
7) Professional Consulting
8) Talking With Friends & Family
9) General Social Interactions
10) Daily Routine
11) Positive Activities
12) Time Spent Outside
13) Positive Thinking
And Yes, in-short the UCB team found good sleep plays a big role in your Anxiety or lack of it, Read-on to find out how…
The Devastation Of Sleep-Deprivation:
So what they did was to take 18 healthy adults and test them for the effects of sleep-debt or sleep-deprivation on their level of Anxiety.
They were asked to go through 1 night of complete sleep-deprivation.
That was followed by a night of normal sleep.
Their Anxiety levels were measured in both the morning and the evening after each of the test & recovery days.
Those scores were then compared to the subjects baseline scores to the same tests before the experiment began.
As a result, the average participant had an increase in Anxiety-Level of 30% the day after the night of sleep-deprivation.
And a full 50% of the subjects had gotten it so bad, their test-scores qualified them as having an Anxiety-Disorder.
The Brain-Scans Prove It:
To further test them, the subjects were also put in brain-scanners and examined for their response to emotion-evoking images.
Following the night of sleep-deprivation there was significantly-increased activity in emotion and fear centers of the brain like the Amygdala and the Dorsal-Anterior Cingulate Cortex.
What was even more interesting was the brain’s Anxiety Damping Circuit.
You see, when you have an anxious or fear-based response, at-least 2 regions of your brain become more active.
The Amygdala freaks-out, and then the mPFC (or Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex) chills it out and helps de-escalate the response.
And that’s where things get really interesting.
Sleep-Loss Deactivates The Brain’s Bob Marley Circuit:
Because this work is some of the first to show that not only do you Feel groggy, like your brain really isn’t working that well.
Parts of your brain Actually are not working that well.
-Or at-all. Because the mPFC chillout-circuit was almost completely shut-off in sleep-deprived subjects.
Interestingly, it is one of the ones we can influence if we actively try to calm ourselves down, too, like through deep slow breathing.
But when we’re sleep-deprived, it just doesn’t want to work, so even active-techniques are less-effective.
This lowered-activity means there is much less going on generally for us to stop anxiety.
It was proportional too, as the study showed that the subjects with the greatest decline in that area’s activity also had the greatest increase in anxiety.
Now you might come back to that and say, “But wait! I don’t ever miss an Entire night of sleep!”
But here’s the kicker.
Any Sleep-Loss Can Turn It Almost Completely-Off:
The lead researcher Eti Ben Simon says that much like a precise-instrument, these regions are surprisingly-sensitive.
And that even if it isn’t one full night of classic, total, sleep-deprivation,
Continued bad sleep that is less than what you’re supposed to get,
That even adds-up to Sleep Debt,
Still basically turns the whole circuit off.
What makes things worse is Chronic Sleep-Debt can be the result of plain-old Habits.
And those can be Very hard to break.
But there is also a little good news amid all this gloom.
When the subjects went back to bed and got a full night of sleep, the problem went away.
But You Can Change That If You Change Your Habits & Sleep-Quality:
The next question of-course would be that why does Anxiety persist for so many people?
Again, this could just be down to bad habits, or something else about sleep.
Because: Quality Matters.
The researchers monitored the amount, quality, and type of sleep their subjects got, too.
And another factor cropped-up.
There are 4 basic phases of sleep. The most well-known is R.E.M., when we dream.
But there are another 2 that are much more useful and correspond to Deep Sleep.
And in the study, it turns out that not only was it a Full 8 Hours of total-sleep that helped,
But also the amount of Deep Sleep that mattered.
Greater Deep-Sleep Means Greater Sleep-Quality:
Here again we find proportionality, because those subjects who got the highest amount of Deep Sleep also had the greatest-reduction in anxiety symptoms.
As you might guess, those people also showed the greatest increase in mPFC activity the next day when scanned.
Now as the lifestyle evaluation-factors from before might hint, the association between Depression or Anxiety with problem-sleep is an established one.
And this study shows it definitively with fMRI Brain-Scans of the chief affected regions.
But the worst part of sleep-debt induced anxiety is that it also tends to feed-back onto itself.
Because that increased anxiety can also make it harder to get back to sleep the next night, which just exaggerates the problem.
And that’s just the beginning.
The Dreaded Feedback-Loop, Awareness-Circuit Damage:
Because we learned back from the results of the UPenn study on sleep & alertness,
That either acute sleep-deprivation or chronic-sleep-debt will damage the brain’s Awareness Circuits, called the LC (or Locus Coeruleus) in ways that may even be permanent.
But the authors of that study also cautioned that there might not be ANY region of the brain that wasn’t either Affected or even Damaged in some way as a result of those losses in sleep.
Now more-encouragingly, there are some studies that suggest the damage might not be permanent, thankfully.
-Because at least in the lab-mice of Sigrid Veasey’s test, 25% of the awareness neurons died and didn’t regenerate.
And in-particular, Alexandros Vgontzas of Penn State’s sleep-study unit posits this type of debt can be repaid, it just takes a little longer than you might think.
Technology To The Rescue? The LCD Screen’s Strange Blue Light:
The other big consideration it of course the weird blue light of LCD screens.
The UC Berkeley researchers conducting that study found that the effects of sleep-deprivation made people behave in socially-anxious ways,
That’s in-addition to the heightened actual-anxiety they were already experiencing if you take into account the Ben Simon study’s findings.
But the double-whammy that hits is that most people have an immediate instinctive reaction to:
1) Avoid someone who’s behaving socially anxious
2) Feel repulsed by them
3) Feel generally-negative after being around them, even for while afterward.
So in-addition to sleep-deprivation making you fat if the anxiety-response takes place in any social-setting, you’re really getting many follow-on effects from this problem that LCD screens may be creating or aggravating,
-Especially since Social Anxiety Disorder can be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Escape The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Of Sleep-Loss Induced Anxiety:
You get anxious, you’re around people, they’re repulsed and depressed by you, they avoid you, you get more social anxiety, you believe there is some kind of personal reason for their avoidance, etc.
Then because of what anxiety does to your sleep, you now have a bigger problem to fix later-on just to get somewhere back to normal,
Which may take more than 1 night if Dr. Alexandros is correct about the recovery-time from chronic sleep-debt.
Hopefully, sleeping-in on weekends can also help.
And unlike nursery-school, that naptime shouldn’t be taken-lightly, because 20% of Americans have an anxiety-disorder, and a minimum 30% of us have some type of chronic-sleep-dept or disturbed-sleep (which increases your chance of having anxiety by 300%).
So, it may seem like a tired old platitude that your Grandmother might tell you, but good healthy sleep really is extremely-important.
Especially if you would like to live a well-rested life free of all the excess anxiety you can manage!
Photo Credits: “fox”, by Karen Arnold
• Source: UCB News
• Source Study: Neuroscience 2018 – Under slept and Overanxious: The neural correlates of sleep-loss induced anxiety in the human brain