The scenario is all too familiar. After a stressful day at work or school, you settle into bed to catch some much needed rest, storing up the mental strength to face another round of challenges come morning. Your mind races, sweeping over the past day’s events and obsessing over potential outcomes of the advancing day. You just can’t turn it off. Sleep fails to come, leaving you exhausted and anxious about the tasks ahead.

While it makes sense to assume it is your anxiety acting as the root cause here, a study published in the June 2013 issue of Journal of Neuroscience suggests that this unfortunate cycle begins with sleep deprivation. It is lack of sleep which initially triggers anxiety symptoms, leading to the above scenario for far too many workers and students.

The Sleep Study

Conducted by UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, the study included the following parameters:

  • 18 healthy young adults were studied, none of whom suffered from clinical anxiety disorder.
  • The participants had their brains scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
  • The scans occurred while participants were shown images both neutral and disturbing, sometimes alternating between the two types.
  • The Participants were scanned both after a good night’s sleep and a sleepless night.

When sleep deprived, all participants experienced soaring activity in their emotional brain centers as they awaited the next image to be shown. This indicates that sleep deprivation is a direct cause of “anticipatory anxiety” in those who do not suffer from clinical anxiety. By igniting regions of the brain tasked with the processing of emotions, sleep deprivation causes patterns which directly mimic the symptoms of clinical anxiety disorders.

“It’s been hard to tease out whether sleep loss is simply a byproduct of anxiety, or whether sleep disruption causes anxiety,” lead study author Andrea Goldstein states. “This study helps us understand that causal relationship more clearly.”

Anticipatory Anxiety and What It Means for You

As an effect of sleep deprivation, anticipatory anxiety holds a number of negative consequences in store for your day-to-day duties at work or school. Do you feel an unreasonable sense of dread before meeting with your supervisor, professor, or other form of overseer? This is anticipatory anxiety bearing down on you. Do you have the tendency to over think tasks, worrying about them to the point where you have trouble completing them on time or in a satisfactory manner? Anticipatory anxiety has you in its grip. Fortunately, there is an obvious way to battle this anxiety and avoid these performance-hindering consequences.

The Importance of Sleep

As the study shows, those who enjoy a night of sleep will have less activity in their emotional brain centers when awaiting tasks, meetings, and other day-to-day activities associated with their jobs, schools, or general lives. Minus this anticipatory anxiety, you will be less prone to the unnecessary worry, overthinking, or rash, detrimental actions associated with clinical anxiety sufferers.

What do you think? Is breaking the cycle as simple as getting a good night’s sleep? What have you found to be the most helpful to you in getting some restful shuteye?