been blessed by both with a common cold and for a couple of days I resorted to taking cold pills. Last night I found myself wide awake watching a Star Trek movie I’ve seen several times at 2am. Of course along with the movies come the unavoidable commercials. One that received multiple plays was a bankruptcy attorney who was offering
“infotapes” on how to legally escape paying debts.
I wondered for a moment why you would want to reach an audience at 2am until it dawned on me that people who are struggling financially are likely to worry about it. And, people who worry sometimes complain that they cannot sleep. That all seems straight forward, but this week I saw an article published in “The Journal of Neuroscience,” that examined the connection between sleeplessness and worry. The results were interesting and indicated that worry and sleep problems could be a two way street. It may be just as likely that people who fail to get good restorative sleep will be worriers as it is that worriers cannot sleep.[i]
The study looked at functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scans in subjects who were sleep deprived and who were simply worriers. The results indicated that the same places in the brain, the amygdala and insula, would light up in those who were sleep deprived in the same way as those who struggled with anxiety. It also seemed in the study that people who were prone to worry were we more likely to respond with brain scan changing worry when they had not slept well.
Through the years that I have practiced medicine and have been involved in Biblical counseling, I have noticed that many of those who struggle with anxiety also have lives that are simply oversubscribed. Many of us wish there were 8 days in the week or 30 hours in a day because we have a lot we want or need to do. Most of us just try to cram 8
days into 7 or 30 hours into 24. And, the thing that suffers most often is how much we sleep.
One of the first things I want to know in a counselee who is struggling with worry or a sad depressed mood is how much they are sleeping. If they are sleeping less than 8 hours a night and are enforcing that with an alarm clock, I will assign 8 hours of sleep a night. If they cannot sleep that long even if they allow enough time for it, I will send them to see a physician to sort out the cause.
If it seems appropriate, I will tell the struggler that most of us don’t sleep enough because we do not allow enough time for it. And, until they change their schedule to allow for at least 8 hours, I may not be able to tell them what is causing their worry or their sadness. The good news is that in my experience, people who are sleep deprived and feel bad generally feel better in a few days.
Sometimes strugglers will tell me that they are just too busy to devote 8 hours to sleeping. I tell them what a wise pastor once told me when I was in just that kind of situation. He reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30. “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…for my yoke my easy and my burden is light.” My pastor friend said that if I was struggling with a heavy burden of a work load, it wasn’t the one that Jesus gave me. And, he was right.
Along with a visit to their physician for a physical and lab work, 8 hours of sleep may be one of the more important
homework assignments we can give those who worry.
Tired and Apprehensive: Anxiety Amplifies the Impact of Sleep Loss on Aversive Brain Anticipation. Andrea N.
Goldstein1, et. Al.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 26 June 2013, 33(26): 10607-10615; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5578-12.2013