We’ve talked in other posts about sleep and emotional well-being. It’s well established that sleep problems contribute to depression, anxiety, anger, poor ability to read other’s emotions, among other contributions to emotional well-being. We also know that REM sleep in particular consolidates memories. Bring these two areas together, and now new research is showing that sleep right after a negative experience ‘fixes’ that memory and emotion in your mind.
The new study, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, had people look at disturbing photographs then rate arousal (calm/excited) and emotional response (happy/sad). After 12 hours, the participants saw a mix of the same photos with some new ones. The photos were rated again, and categorized as old or new. Some people first saw the photos in the evening so they slept between viewings, and others saw the photos in the morning and again in the evening after their regular daytime activities.
The big difference between how the photos were remembered was whether the person had slept between viewings. Those who had slept reported similar negativity and emotional charge, while those who had stayed awake rated the pictures as more neutral. There was also a trend for those who had the most REM sleep to have the least amount of change in negativity and emotional charge.
So what does this mean for us? First off, probably none of us should be watching the scary 10 o’clock news. Going to sleep right afterward is going to help us remember anything upseting, and also lock in those negative emotions. We also want to have that hour of quiet wind-down before sleep that we’ve talked about before. And forget discussing any bad news or addressing any conflicts with our spouse during that time, unless we want the bad feelings to linger in the morning. These are all things we knew to avoid on some level before, but now science is backing up common sense.