"The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night of sleep." So says Matthew Walker, a of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. If you've ever spent at least one (or likely many) sleepless night(s) with your heart pounding and your head racing, that quote will make total intuitive sense.
Walker has just published a study on how sleep is your best weapon against anxiety and stress. Deep sleep, he writes, reorganizes connections in the brain, and as long as we get it every night, it seems to inhibit anxiety. "Without sleep, it's almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake," he says.
Deep sleep is also called "non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow-wave sleep, a state in which neural oscillations become highly synchronized, and heart rates and blood pressure drop." That means you're not dreaming, and if you wake up during deep sleep, you're more likely to be groggy and impaired for up to half an hour after the interruption.
Of course, one of the problems of anxiety is that it makes relaxing difficult. Some good places to set yourself up for success begin with giving yourself a reliable routine. Look for some good playlists to get you in the right headspace, and if your mind is racing, try making to-do lists for the next day — really. A good night's sleep isn't an automatic cure for anxiety, but it's one tool that's in your grasp, and well worth giving a chance.