Study: Does Sleep Disruption Cause Anxiety Disorder Or Is Sleep Disruption A Byproduct Of Anxitety Disorder?

“You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep!”

There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve uttered this admonition either in conversation with a family member, a friend, a co-worker…or maybe, depending on your profession, with a patient. If you’re a parent, then you quickly learn how critically important sleep is for an infant and for new parents. Even in the course of a day, a parent will know when an infant or toddler “needs” a nap. To learn more about sleep and just how sleep refreshes our bodies and minds, you can visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

New study suggests sleep deprivation triggers anxiety

The June 26, 2013, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience included the results of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California Berkeley, Tired and Apprehensive: Anxiety Amplifies the Impact of Sleep Loss on Aversive Brain Anticipation.

The study’s parameters

  • Study was conducted at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory
  • The study involved 18 healthy young adults.
  • The participants had a range of general anxiety levels, but none met the criteria for a clinical anxiety disorder.
  • Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) after a good night’s rest and also after a sleepless night. The fMRIs were given while the participants viewed images that were either neutral, disturbing or alternating between both types.

Study’s findings…

According to the press release issued by the UC Berkeley News Center:

“Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety by firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. Furthermore, their research suggests that innate worriers – those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder – are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.

The results suggest that people suffering from such maladies as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, may benefit substantially from sleep therapy. At UC Berkeley, psychologists such as Allison Harvey, a co-author on the Journal of Neuroscience paper, have been garnering encouraging results in studies that use sleep therapy on patients with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.”

Working with patients with mood disorders and anxiety disorders

Anxiety is something we all feel from time to time. It’s normal to feel anxiety symptoms like apprehension or nervousness when faced with a difficult situation at work, school or home. An anxiety disorder; however, is quite different.

A true anxiety disorder is a brain disease – more precisely a dysregulation of the brain’s inhibitory chemical messengers. Anxiety disorders can paralyze the sufferer with constant fear and worry. There are actually a number of anxiety disorders, including: panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions are characterized by feelings of fear, apprehension and panic; obsessive, ruminative thoughts; distressing intrusive thoughts and/or nightmares related to a past traumatic experience, difficulty sleeping, and counting or checking rituals.

Anxiety treatment takes a multifaceted approach at Cottonwood that looks at the whole person. Cottonwood’s board certified psychiatrists are experienced in using non-addictive mood-regulating medications to reduce anxiety. Our counselors know the therapeutic approaches anxiety sufferers respond to best. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works especially well with anxious patients, helping them to identify and change specific thoughts or patterns of thinking that tend to exacerbate their anxiety or undermine their ability to self-sooth.

Matthew Walker, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and the senior investigator for this study offers the following observation:

“If sleep disruption is a key factor in anxiety disorders, as this study suggests, then it’s a potentially treatable target. By restoring good quality sleep in people suffering from anxiety, we may be able to help ameliorate their excessive worry and disabling, fearful expectations.”

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1 Response
  1. I can fully relate as I lived in agony for 40 years with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and a destroyed sense of self and identity. I wish that every person afflicted with these inner struggles to find peace and happiness and a way to control the emotions and behaviors associated with them. For those interested, I have a simple blog up with my experiences and my story, along with a few reviews of products/techniques that have helped me in my quest to find solutions. I sincerely want to spread the word about what helped me because after so many doctors and so many types of medicine I was at the point of believing nothing was ever going to help. I’m happy to share my story and hope it may help others! My blog can be found at :


    Many blessings to all!

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