Washington: Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that lack of sleep may play a key role in ramping up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.
Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety by firing up the brain`s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing.
The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders.
Furthermore, their research suggests that innate worriers - those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder - are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.
"These findings help us realize that those people who are anxious by nature are the same people who will suffer the greatest harm from sleep deprivation," Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the paper, said.
The results suggest that people suffering from such maladies as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, may benefit substantially from sleep therapy.
At UC Berkeley, psychologists such as Allison Harvey, a co-author on the paper, have been garnering encouraging results in studies that use sleep therapy on patients with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.
"If sleep disruption is a key factor in anxiety disorder s, as this study suggests, then it`s a potentially treatable target," Walker said.
"By restoring good quality sleep in people suffering from anxiety, we may be able to help ameliorate their excessive worry and disabling fearful expectations," he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.