Less sleep = more anxiety

Anxiety may significantly elevate the emotional dysfunction and risk associated with insufficient sleep, reveals new research

Anxious man lying on bed sleeplessIf you are already anxious, make sure you get your dose of sleep lest your anxiety aggravates. According to new research, loss of sleep causes us to exaggerate our anticipation of impending emotional events, especially among those who are already feeling anxious.

Sleep deprivation and intensified emotional response, known to be common features of anxiety disorders, may not be independent of one another, says the new study.

Researchers from the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted brain scanning on 18 healthy adults in two separate sessions, one after a normal night's sleep and a second after a night of sleep deprivation. During both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that involved a period of anticipating a potentially negative experience (an unpleasant visual image) or a potentially benign experience (a neutral visual image).

The fMRI scans showed that sleep deprivation significantly amplified the build-up of anticipatory activity in deep emotional brain centers, especially the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with responding to negative and unpleasant experiences.

The researchers also found a connection between the strength of this sleep deprivation effect and how naturally anxious the participants were. Those who were more anxious showed greater vulnerability to the aggravating effects of sleep deprivation. The results suggest that anxiety may significantly elevate the emotional dysfunction and risk associated with insufficient sleep.

"Anticipation is a fundamental brain process, a common survival mechanism across numerous species," said Andrea Goldstein, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. "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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