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Sleep Problems Can Trigger Anxiety

Individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders often report disturbed sleep. However, the direct cause of disrupted sleep is poorly understood.

New research suggests sleep problems can exacerbate pre-existing psychological conditions.

As proper sleep is critical for cognitive and daily functioning, researchers evaluated differences in sleep architecture after induced stress.

Robert Ross MacLean, of Boston University, utilized an objective measure of anxiety and recorded subsequent sleep-wake behavior in rats. In the rodent model, many previous studies had observed differences in sleep-wake behavior after shock exposure, but the level of anxiety was merely assumed or absent.

MacLean’s study exposed naïve rats to one of three paradigms: escapable shock, inescapable shock or fear conditioning. Immediately after experimental manipulation, individual level of anxiety was assessed using the elevated-plus maze apparatus, and polygraphic signs of sleep-wake behavior were recorded for six hours.

By measuring individual anxiety level prior to recording sleep, MacLean was able to make comparisons between sleep architecture and level of anxiety. In doing so, MacLean intended to establish a direct link between variation in sleep architecture and heightened anxiety in the rodent model.

“These changes could elucidate sleep-wake behavior associated with the subjective complaint of disrupted sleep, thus creating the potential for new diagnostic and assessment criteria for anxiety disorders,” said MacLean.

“This information is relevant given the recent influx of psychological disorders in Iraq war veterans, particularly generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The amount of sleep a person gets affects his or her physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance. Recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Experts recommend that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to maintain good health and optimum performance.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Sleep Problems Can Trigger Anxiety

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep Problems Can Trigger Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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