If you’re feeling anxious about your job, your love life (or lack thereof), or just about anything else going on in life, you might not need a pill or even the latest meditation craze — you might just need a good night’s sleep.
That’s according to a study out of UC Berkeley, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour (https://www.nature.com/nathumbehav/), which found that sleepless nights could trigger a 30 percent increase in anxiety levels. A restful night, on the other hand, could reverse anxiety symptoms by essentially rewiring the brain.
“Our study strongly suggests that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress,” study lead author Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, said in a statement on the school’s website.
For the study, 18 young adults had their brains scanned via MRI and other methods while they watched “emotionally stirring video clips” after a full night’s sleep, and again after a restless night. Anxiety levels for each session were measured by a questionnaire.
The brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that keeps anxiety in check, was shut down after a sleepless night—leading to more anxiety for the participants.
Alternatively, when the participants had a solid night’s sleep, they had less anxiety. Specifically, the lower anxiety levels were seen when the participants had several hours of non-rapid eye movement slow-wave sleep, otherwise known as a deep sleep—a state where brain functions become highly synchronized and heart rates drop.
The study was recreated at least twice, with similar results found both times.
Here are some tips from the study’s authors to try to get a perfect night’s sleep, and bring your anxiety levels down to near zero:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even after a bad night’s sleep or on the weekend.
- Keep your bedroom temperature cool; about 65 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for cooling your body toward sleep. Wear socks if your feet are cold.
- An hour before bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all electronic screens and devices. Blackout curtains are helpful.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns. Then, go back to bed.
- Avoid caffeine after 1 p.m. and never go to bed tipsy. Alcohol is a sedative, and sedation is not sleep. It also blocks your REM dream sleep, an important part of the sleep cycle.