Health

Deep sleep can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms – key tips to achieve it

Anxiety is not intrinsically bad - it can help you to perform under pressure and it is an invaluable instinct in dangerous situations. If anxiety is becoming overwhelming and it doesn't have a readily explainable cause, then you may need to address it. It's not always easy to recognise when anxiety is the reason you're feeling or acting differently.

According to the NHS, anxiety can cause many different symptoms; it can affect how you feel physically, mentally and how you behave.

Generally, if you are experiencing physical and mental abnormalities, such as chest pains and headaches, and are unable to relax and enjoy leisure time, you may have anxiety, says the health body.

Although it may not seem it right now, anxiety can be addressed by making healthy lifestyle changes.

A lesser-known remedy is to foster deep sleep, also known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep.

Deep sleep is the sleep stage that is associated with the slowest brain waves during sleep.

It is a state whereby brain waves become highly synchronised, and heart rates and blood pressure drop.

According research published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, deep sleep can redress the imbalances in the brain that underpin anxiety.

"We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganising connections in the brain," said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology.

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He added: "Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night."

In a series of experiments using functional MRI and polysomnography, among other measures, Simon and fellow researchers scanned the brains of 18 young adults as they viewed emotionally stirring video clips after a full night of sleep, and again after a sleepless night.

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 centres were overactive.

"Without sleep, it's almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake," Walker said.

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.

How can I achieve deep sleep?

Body heating, such as immersion in a sauna or hot tub, may facilitate the deep sleep state.

"Studies have shown that slow-wave sleep is facilitated when brain temperature exceeds a certain threshold," explains the American Sleep Association (ASA).


"Without sleep, it's almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake," Walker said.

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.

How can I achieve deep sleep?

Body heating, such as immersion in a sauna or hot tub, may facilitate the deep sleep state.

"Studies have shown that slow-wave sleep is facilitated when brain temperature exceeds a certain threshold," explains the American Sleep Association (ASA).


According to the ASA, an unusually low, short-term carbohydrate diet in healthy sleepers also promotes an increase in the percentage of slow-wave sleep.

"This includes a production in the percentage of dreaming sleep (REM sleep), when compared to the control with a mixed diet," says the health body.

As it explains, experts believe these sleep changes could very well be linked to the metabolism of the fat content of the low carbohydrate diet.

"In addition, the ingestion of antidepressants and certain SSRI's can increase the duration of slow-wave sleep periods; however, the effects of THC on slow-wave sleep remain controversial," it adds.



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