Sleep: The Cure for Negativity in People with Anxiety

Sleep Deprivation, sleep and mental health, insomniaCovers on, covers off. Legs curled, legs straight. Window open, window closed. Back, front, left side, right side, repeat. Is tossing and turning in bed your nightly routine? Does your anxiety prevent you from being able to turn off your mind and drift to sleep? If so, your lack of sleep may be exacerbating your anxiety. A new study done by the University of Chicago at Illinois suggests that those who struggle from sleep disturbance due to anxiety or depression find it more difficult to stay positive throughout the day.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression, you probably don’t need to be told that it affects your mood. Warding off negativity can sometimes seem like an insurmountable task. You’re frequently told to “stay positive,” but the constant reminders probably only make doing so even more difficult. Life weighs heavy, and sleep does not come easily. Unfortunately, according to this recent study, lack of sleep actually makes it even more difficult for those who suffer from anxiety and depression to stay positive.

“Our research indicates sleep might play an important role in the ability to regulate negative emotions in people who suffer from anxiety or depression,” said Heidi Klumpp, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC and leader of the research team, speaking to ScienceDaily. According to the study, the part of the brain that regulates negativity, know as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, works much harder after a poor night’s sleep in those who suffer from anxiety or depression. “Staying positive” becomes even more difficult when one is experiencing sleep deprivation in addition to anxiety and depression.

In the study, Klumpp measured participants’ automatic ability to “reappraise” certain images, which she says requires “significant mental energy.” Klumpp explains, “In people with depression or anxiety, reappraisal can be even more difficult, because these disorders are characterized by chronic negativity or negative rumination, which makes seeing the good in things difficult.”

Staying positive throughout the day can already feel like a colossal task for those who suffer from anxiety/depression. Small things feel big, simple things feel complex. The added stress someone suffering with anxiety carries can also make falling asleep feel impossible. Klumpp’s research indicated that ¾ of the 78 patients in the study met the criteria for significant sleep disturbance.

This study has made apparent the dangerous cycle rendered by anxiety and depression disorders. Mental disorders disrupt sleep, but disrupted sleep has negative daily consequences, which in turn fuels more stress. It is crucial to reverse this cycle — prioritizing sleep can help to keep anxiety and depression at manageable levels. Sufficient sleep can help make “staying positive” more effortless. The findings of this study open our eyes to just how important it is to shut them, especially for people struggling with anxiety and depression.

About the Author

Sam Bean Samantha Bean is a student at the University of California Santa Barbara. Finishing up a degree in Comparative Literature and Professional Writing, Bean is pursuing the career path she has devoted herself to since she was a child: writing. She writes for PsychAlive as well as  interns at the Santa Barbara Independent, and has her sights set on advocacy writing for social justice.

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