You might go to bed understanding why you’re feeling anxious, but do you also wake up with anxiety that seems out of proportion? If so, you’re not alone as according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, a sleepless night can trigger a 30% rise in anxiety levels. The researchers announced they had “identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain”.


The study found the type of sleep most likely to calm anxiety is deep sleep, also known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep, a state in which brain oscillations become highly synchronized, and heart rate and blood pressure drop.  “Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor) so long as we get it each and every night.”

The findings are suggested to be a natural, non-pharmaceutical remedy for anxiety disorders and, as we know, many of us are affected by varying degrees of anxiety. “People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety,” reported the researchers.

After a sleepless night, brain scans showed a shutdown of the part of the brain that normally helps keep our anxiety in check, while the brain’s deeper emotional centres were overactive. After a full night of sleep the results showed anxiety levels declined significantly, especially for those who experienced more deep, slow-wave NREM sleep.

But what can we do if we’re having difficulty getting off to sleep? I’ve heard all the advice, such as not looking at an electronic device for at least an hour before going to bed, and not keeping an electronic device near to the bed. Yep, that’s going to be challenging!!! Less challenging should be making sure the bedroom is as dark as you can possibly make it as light disrupts the hormones that are trying to send us off to sleep. Try not to eat anything too close to bedtime – if my digestive system is being kept frantically busy trying to digest the food I’ve just eaten, my brain isn’t sending messages to the rest of my body to wind down. Making a tea (infusion) using the herb Chamomile is a long-established approach to help with sleep but if you’re using a tea bag it might not be strong enough, so try using 2 bags in the infusion.

Another herb, Valerian, acts as a natural relaxant and mild sedative. It has been used for its calming influence since the time of Hippocrates. BUT, if you are taking any medication, whether prescribed or a product you buy yourself over-the-counter, it is vitally important to always check for interactions or contraindications between the medication and the herb before trying a herbal remedy. How can you obtain this information? Although you can get all sorts of information off the internet, the safest thing for us all would be to ask a pharmacist.

Jackie Day

Source: Eti Ben Simon, Aubrey Rossi, Allison G. Harvey, Matthew P. Walker. Overanxious and undersleptNature Human Behaviour, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-019-0754-8

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