A recent article in Psychology Today provides information regarding how helpful sleep is, given the fast-paced and high-stress world we now live in. More than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sufficient sleep is critical. Some of the most common emotional and behavioral challenges—stress, anxiety, and depression—are closely connected to sleep. Shortchanging the circadian clock that helps regulate cellular processes paves the way for many kinds of dysfunction.
Seventy to 80 percent of people with anxiety disorders report trouble sleeping. Scientists at the University of California, Berkley, sought to understand the extent of the connection and how it unfolds.
In one experiment, a group of study participants slept in a laboratory overnight, while another group was forced to stay awake. In the morning, all the participants watched an emotional video after which their anxiety levels were assessed by questionnaires. For those who stayed awake, anxiety shot up 30 percent. However, a second study showed that even minor sleep interference led to a spike in anxiety levels the next day.
The scientists also analyzed brain activity through MRI. There were two key regions to assess: the amygdala, which directs emotional responses, and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for emotional regulation, decision making, and critical thinking. After a night of poor sleep, the amygdala was unchanged, and emotions were felt as strong as ever. However, the prefrontal cortex activity diminished, so the brain’s reserves to manage emotions were depleted. By contrast, a full night’s sleep, especially if it encompassed the deep sleep stage called slow-wave sleep, led to strong activity in the prefrontal cortex and lower anxiety.
When I was treated for PTSD many years ago, I had trouble sleeping and was prescribed a sleep medication, which helped the problem. Dear readers, if you have had bouts of sleepless nights and have overcome this challenge, it would be helpful to others to hear how this occurred.