A good night’s sleep has been known to help improve overall health and well-being, but a new study has discovered another reason why deep sleep is so important: It is the type of sleep that is most apt to help reduce anxiety levels.

Deep sleep is also known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep, a state where “neural oscillations become highly synchronized, and heart rates and blood pressure drop,” according to Greater Good Magazine.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley scanned the brains of 18 young adults as they watched emotionally stirring videos after a night of deep sleep and again after a sleepless night. After each session, the researchers recorded the participants’ anxiety levels using a questionnaire known as the state-trait anxiety inventory.

After a sleepless night, the participants’ brain scans showed a shutdown of their medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that normally keeps anxiety in check. On the other hand, their brains’ deeper emotional centers were overactive.


Meanwhile, after a night of deep sleep, the participants’ brain scans showed that their anxiety levels dropped significantly. This was especially visible in participants who experienced slow-wave NREM sleep.

Greater Good Magazine writes that the results of this study “provide one of the strongest neural links between sleep and anxiety to date.” These also suggest that sleep might be a “natural, non-pharmaceutical remedy” for anxiety, which is a growing issue not only among adults but even teens and young kids.

GulfNews reports that the researchers replicated the experiment on 30 other participants. They found that those who got more nighttime deep sleep had the lowest anxiety levels the next day.

Finally, in addition to the experiments, the researchers conducted an online study where they tracked the changes in the sleep and anxiety levels of 280 individuals over four days. PsychCentral writes, “The amount and quality of sleep the participants got from one night to the next predicted how anxious they would feel the next day.” Even the slightest changes in their sleep were found to affect their anxiety levels.

“We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by recognizing connections in the brain. Deep sleep seems to be a natural anxiolytic (anxiety inhibitor), so long as we get it each and every night,” says Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study.

Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study, says, “Our study strongly suggests that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress.”

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Simon continues, “People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety.

“Our study not only establishes a causal connection between sleep and anxiety, but it identifies the kind of deep NREM sleep we need to calm the overanxious brain.”

If you regularly deal with anxiety and struggle to sleep soundly, Greater Good Magazine suggests keeping your bedroom temperature cool (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius), turning off all electronic screens and devices an hour before going to bed, doing something quiet and relaxing if you can’t sleep, and avoiding caffeine after 1 p.m.

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