Anticipatory Anxiety Linked to Missed Sleep


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Good sleep can change your outlook.

Good sleep can change your outlook. Image by Relaxing Music.

What’s Sleep Got to Do With It?

According to a new study by Andrea Goldstein of the University of California, Berkeley, sleep and anticipatory anxiety are inextricably linked.

The amygdala and the insula, two areas of the brain that are linked with anticipatory anxiety, show changed activity in response to sleep loss.

Using MRI’s, the researchers measured brain activity in subjects after a regular night’s sleep, and again after the subjects had been awake for 24 hours.

After a sleepless night, brain activity in the anticipatory anxiety areas was significantly raised. People with a predisposition toward anxiety were even more likely to be susceptible to increased anxiety due to lack of sleep.

The new findings support an earlier study led by Dr. William Killgore. He found that sleep deprivation reduces emotional intelligence. When people do not sleep enough, their self-esteem, assertiveness, and empathy toward others are all reduced. Additionally, their stress management skills weaken.

Their thinking becomes more negative and they are less likely to take actions to help themselves, which can increase their sense of fear about future disasters. Missed sleep also makes people more prone to believing in superstitions, which can make them feel more helpless and anxious.

Lack of Sleep Creates Negativity

Drs. Hicks and Picchioni, researchers at San Jose State University, CA, studied how people interpreted their personal experiences in relation to the amount of sleep they had gotten. They collected sleep data from 82 university undergraduates over 14 days, classifying their sleep as periods of short sleep, mid-range sleep, or long sleep.

They then gave the students the Hassles and Uplifts questionnaire, which had them rate their daily experiences as either negative (a hassle), or positive (an uplift). Not surprisingly, those who had slept less rated more of their events as hassles. They also reported more difficulty coping with their hassles.

Sleep More For Less Anxiety

Loss of sleep causes not only more anxiety about the future, it also causes people to interpret occurrences in a negative way. Maintaining positive sleep habits will not cure anxiety disorders, but it can go a long way toward reducing anticipatory anxiety. The next time you feel inordinately anxious about a future event, try sleeping on it, and see your confidence rise.


Goldstein, Tired and apprehensive: anxiety amplifies the impact of sleep loss on aversive brain anticipation. (2013).Journal of Neuroscience. Accessed on July 12, 2013.

Killgore, Sleep deprivation reduces perceived emotional intelligence and constructive thinking skills. (2008). Sleep Medicine. Accessed on July 12, 2013.

Hicks, Ra. & Picchioni, D. Fluctuations in sleep duration are correlated with salience of stressful experience. (2003). Perceptual and Motor Skills. Accessed on July 12, 2013.

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