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The Connection Between Deep Sleep and Anxiety

By Adam Trainor January 20, 2020

Riddle me this: how does a man go eight days without sleep?

Drumroll, please...

He sleeps during the night.

All jokes aside, sleep is essential to our daily living. Talk to anyone who hasn’t slept well for any amount of time (aka, all of us), and they’ll tell you how much they miss it and long to sleep more. 

While there are many well-known benefits of sleep like reducing stress, improving memory, increasing alertness, and repairing tissue damage, evidence from recent studies suggests that sufficient sleep can help reduce anxiety. 

….Okay, so what’s the kicker?

Everyone knows that sleep can help reduce anxiety, so what? Well, new studies have figured out which stage of sleep is essential for calming the mind and rewiring the brain for lasting anxiety relief.

Specifically, researchers have determined that deep sleep stage is crucial for soothing an anxious mind.

koala sleeping deeply

So let’s dive into the world of neuroscience and sleep!

Stages of Sleep

As I mentioned above, deep sleep is one of the stages of sleep.

But you might be asking: what are the other stages of sleep? And when does deep sleep occur?

Glad you asked, because I’m about to break down each stage!

So there are two major stages of sleep: NREM and REM. NREM stands for non-rapid eye movement and is the first stage in the sleep cycle.

NREM 

There are three phases of sleep in the non-rapid eye movement stage. For most adults, each phase typically lasts about 15 minutes, but this can vary from person to person based on age, activity level, and other factors.

Stage I: This is considered to be the lightest sleep phase, like when you’re in that weird, in between state of sleep and wakefulness. During this phase, the human body releases hundreds of alpha and theta waves, which help to relax the body. This is the stage people usually enter when taking a quick catnap.

Stage II: This stage is slightly less light than stage I, but one can easily be woken up from this phase. It’s in stage II that the body releases sleep spindles, a type of neural pathway that is important for memory storage. 

Stage III: This is the deep sleep stage. Have you ever been abruptly woken up from a deep sleep and felt disoriented and groggy? 

via GIPHY

That means you were in the deep sleep stage! This stage is super important for tissue repair (like after a heavy workout at the gym), boosting the immune system, and, as stated above, reducing anxiety. 

REM 

After the 3 stages of NREM are complete, the body moves onto the next stage in the sleep cycle: REM.

REM stands for rapid-eye movement.

As you might have guessed, your eyes rapidly move during this stage since your brain is more active, and you might even be having wondrous dreams about your greatest desires. Mine usually revolve around ice cream and self-folding laundry. 

The typical adult has 5-6 REM cycles throughout the night and is also important for memory like the second stage of NREM.

Deep Sleep & Anxiety

Throughout the night, your body alternates between NREM and REM cycles (hence the name cycle). But what happens when one of these cycles gets disrupted? Depending on the stage that is disrupted, a series of symptoms can occur. For example, disruption of sleep in the Stage 1-NREM phase tends to increase levels of fatigue, irritability, increased awareness to pain, and poorer performance on tasks.  Evidence suggests that when the third stage of NREM is shortened or interrupted, it could be linked to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This particular study analyzed the effects of reduced deep sleep on anxiety levels and found that decreasing the amount of deep sleep can result in a 30% rise in anxiety levels! Furthermore, the reverse is true. This study also found the more deep sleep the subjects got, the lower their anxiety levels were the next day. 

This could explain why so many people experience high levels of anxiety and emotional disturbance, even though they felt like they got a full night’s rest the day before. It all has to do with the amount of deep sleep. 

cat sleeping deeply

Who knew? Now, you do.

Fun fact: Vital Reaction’s molecular hydrogen tablets may help to improve sleep patterns, just saying... 

Bottom Line: if you’re struggling with anxiety, consider investigating your deep sleep patterns. Cause you’re worth it.

P.S. Want more anxiety reduction techniques? Check out our blog post on ways to cope with anxiety!


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