Sleep spindles, brief periods of brain activity occurring during one phase of sleep and captured by EEG, could help in managing anxiety in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new study.
The findings published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging may be meaningful for people with PTSD as well as those with anxiety disorders, according to a press statement by the University of California San Francisco.
The study involved 45 participants who had experienced combat or noncombat trauma and around half of them had moderate symptoms of PTSD and the other half had milder symptoms or were asymptomatic. The spindles were studied during non-rapid eye movement 2 (NREM2) sleep, the phase of sleep when they mainly occur, which comprises about half of total sleep. The participants attended a “stress visit” where they were shown images of violent scenes before a monitored nap. In the control visit, the participants were not exposed to any such images, according to the statement.
The findings showed that spindle rate frequency was higher during the stress visit than during the control visit. “This provides compelling evidence that stress was a contributing factor in spindle-specific sleep rhythm changes,” said first author Nikhilesh Natraj. Interestingly, among those with greater PTSD symptoms, the increased spindle frequency after stress exposure reduced anxiety after the nap.
These findings also highlight the importance of maintaining sleep hygiene which is an easy way to ensure you are entering sleep phases properly. A 2019 study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour showed that the deep phase of sleep is a natural anxiety reliever. The findings highlighted that anxiety levels reduced after a full night of sleep and that this was even more significant in people who spent more time in the deep, non-REM stage of sleep, according to Medical News Today.
“Without sleep,” Matthew Walker, senior author of the study explained in a press statement “it’s almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake.”