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Nearly 40 million people living in the United States have an anxiety disorder, and many of these people report having poor or fragmented sleep. New research demonstrates that deep sleep may reduce anxiety by helping reorganize connections in the brain.
The study involved 30 young adults whose brain activities and anxiety levels were measured after viewing stressful events following a sleep-deprived night versus a sleep-filled night. After the sleep-deprived night, the participants' anxiety levels were increased after viewing the events. When the participants had a full night of sleep, however, their anxiety levels were decreased, especially for those who experienced deep sleep.
Brain scans demonstrated that sleep deprivation among the participants impaired the activity of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area that mediates the effects of stress and anxiety. Conversely, deep sleep restored prefrontal cortex function, effectively restructuring the brain to reduce anxiety.
These findings suggest that sleep deprivation increases anxiety levels whereas deep sleep helps decrease anxiety.