Researchers have found that the type of sleep most apt to calm and reset the anxious brain is deep sleep, also known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep, a state in which neural oscillations become highly synchronized, and heart rates and blood pressure drops.
A sleepless night can trigger up to a 30 per cent rise in anxiety levels.”We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain," said study senior author Professor Matthew Walker."Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), as long as we get it each and every night," Walker added.
Anxiety levels were measured following each session via a questionnaire known as the state-trait anxiety inventory. After a night of no sleep, brain scans showed a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex, which normally helps keep our anxiety in check, while the brain's deeper emotional centers were overactive.
After a full night of sleep, during which participants' brain waves were measured via electrodes placed on their heads, the results showed their anxiety levels declined significantly, especially for those who experienced more slow-wave NREM sleep. "Deep sleep had restored the brain's prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety," Simon said.
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