Anxiety is a big problem for numerous Americans, who continuously endure worry, self-imposed stress and even debilitating panic attacks. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million U.S. adults have some form of anxiety disorder, which costs the country more than $42 billion a year, or approximately a third of all national mental health costs.
Anxiety can affect people in a variety of ways, with some suffering from insomnia and stress and others choosing to remain reclusive from social interaction. Unfortunately, when it comes to treating anxiety, no one way seems to prove effective for everyone.
When anxiety begins to interfere with a person’s ability to function in everyday life, prescription drugs may become necessary. Some people respond well to antidepressants medications, while others may need anti-anxiety benzodiazepines to help them relax. Unfortunately, antidepressants can have unpleasant side-effects and may prove ineffective for certain people. Likewise, benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam and Xanax, have been linked to long-term cognitive problems. They may also prove physically and psychologically addictive, especially for people who use them to stop or prevent panic attacks.
In search of non-addictive remedies that come with fewer side-effects, many people turn to alternative strategies, such as massage, aromatherapy, valerian root, kava, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). While some people swear by these supplements and relaxation techniques, clinical studies haven’t been able to definitively demonstrate that they have much of an effect on a person’s anxiety levels.
On the other hand, researchers have been able to demonstrate that adequate sleep has the ability to drastically reduce anxiety. A recent study presented at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory used MRI scans to show that sleep deprivation appears to trigger emotional dysfunction, which can promote anxiety. Additionally, researchers found that the more naturally anxious an individual is, the more likely he or she will be susceptible to the effects of insufficient sleep.
According to Dr. Kevin Berry, of Denver, Colorado, the results of this study aren’t surprising.
“The reason so many anxiety treatments aim to improve sleep is that deep sleep is where the mind gets its rest and rejuvenation,” he said. “Without that rejuvenation and rest, the brain is sort of running on empty and has a harder time dealing with normal stressors that many of us could deal with without a problem.”
Although some people have no choice but to resort to prescription drugs, many find relief when they commit to lifestyle changes that promote better sleep quality. According to Dr. Berry, as people become aware of the importance of sleep, more are choosing to get help.
“The media has been doing a good job of making people more aware of the importance of sleep. It’s also shedding light on how many people suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea, sleep walking, nocturnal euresis, and other sleep-related problems.”
While some find themselves reliant on prescription medications and supplements; others are finding that they can help themselves by making lifestyle changes that promote better sleep. As more and more studies show that people can temper their stress by getting adequate rest; it appears that — when it comes to relieving anxiety — a good night’s sleep may be the best place to start.
Ryan Lawrence writes for Off-Topic Media. Photo by Tom Varco. Thanks to Dr. Kevin Berry or his contributions to this story.