Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sleep deprivation and anxiety disorders

This article describes research that shows that sleep deprivation fires up areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. This pattern is similar to the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. The authors conclude that sleep disruption may be a key factor in anxiety disorders. Maybe. But I'm not sure you can make that statement based on the experiment. The researchers took young healthy people with no anxiety or insomnia disorders and subjected them to images after a night of good sleep and then a sleepless night. But applying the results from these healthy subjects may not be realistic for people with anxiety disorders. The authors also suggest that fixing sleep problems in anxious people may improve their anxiety condition. Perhaps, but usually if what they worry about is related to not sleeping well. I'm not yet convinced that helping people sleep better will eradicate a generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is true that many anxiety disorders are associated with difficulty sleeping. However, the difficulty sleeping could be just an effect of the anxiety disorder. Fixing the sleep problem is less likely to help the anxiety disorder. I base this on my own experience with patients with insomnia. Some have anxiety disorders too. When I help them sleep better, their anxiety disorder does not necessarily get better. They worry less about not sleeping, but the other parts of the anxiety disorder remain.

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