Volunteers’ brain waves were also measured during a full night of sleep. Results showed decreased anxiety levels, particularly for those who got more NREM sleep. For people who are at risk for anxiety disorders, increasing their duration of deep sleep could be a valuable non-pharmaceutical tool for anxiety.
Deep sleep could be a natural anxiety inhibitor when we get it every night.
In a study from Nature Human Behaviour, researchers identified the importance of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep in reducing anxiety. These findings add to other evidence of the connection between sleep and mental health.
Sleep medicine specialist Dr. Yelena Tumashova, of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, suggests that physiological effects of NREM sleep could account for the study’s results.
“NonREM sleep occurs during stages 3 and 4. During this deep sleep, the brain detoxes and reorganizes,” Dr. Tumashova says. “The body relaxes – blood pressure lowers, muscles relax, and heart and breathing rates slow down. Stress hormones are also lowered during deep sleep.”
In the study, brain scans performed after a night of no sleep revealed that the part of the brain that normally keeps anxiety in check shut down at the same time as deeper emotional centers became overactive.
Another part of the study questioned people online about both their sleep and anxiety levels over 4 consecutive days. These self-reported results showed that even small differences in sleep quality affected anxiety levels.
To help get the effects of deep sleep, Dr. Tumashova recommends routines such as these at bedtime:
- Reducing exposure to “smart” devices
- Relaxation techniques
- Taking a warm bath
- Deep breathing
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Identify stressors and avoid them at bedtime
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages past noon