Lack of Sleep Related to High Anxiety

The latest technologies have provided scientists with evidence of how sleep deprivation leads to anxiety. These investigators have said that their findings demonstrate increased sleep loss exaggerates the level of anxiety for upcoming social events. This overreaction happens most often to those individuals who are already suffering from high anxiety, making them even more vulnerable.

There are two common features of anxiety disorders: sleep loss and amplified emotional response. With these findings, it is suggested that these features may not be independent but might actually be a causal relationship.

The study was conducted at the University of California Berkeley campus, where researchers used brain scanning techniques on eighteen healthy adults in two separate groups. One group had tests after a normal night’s sleep while the second group had theirs after a night of sleep deprivation. In both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that had a period of anticipating potentially negative experience through an unpleasant visual image or a potentially benign experience or neutral visual image.

In functional MRI scans, it showed that sleep deprivation was amplified with the build up of anticipatory activity in the embedded emotional centers of the brain, most especially the amygdala, where responses to negative and unpleasant experiences were found. It was also found that in many emotional centers of the brain, sleep deprivation triggered a sixty percent increase in anticipatory reactions. The study further found that the effect of sleep deprivation was related to how naturally anxious an individual is in their natural settings.

The study concluded that individuals who were more anxious also showed the biggest vulnerability to the aggravating effects of sleep deprivation. The result further suggests that anxiety has a significant effect in elevating the emotional dysfunction and risk attributable mainly to lack of sleep.

According to the lead author of the study, Andrea Goldstein, “Anticipation is a fundamental brain process, a common survival mechanism across numerous species. Our results suggest that just one night of sleep loss significantly alters the optimal functioning of this essential brain process, especially among anxious individuals. This is perhaps never more relevant considering the continued erosion of sleep time that continues to occur across society.”

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