A single night of sleep, or even a little nap, allows us to control how emotions affect us and crystallise emotional information.
Research has already demonstrated that sleep generally aids in our ability to understand our emotions. Sleep is essential for retaining memories since it plays a crucial role in encoding information based on daily experiences. Additionally, the way that emotional memories trigger the amygdala, the brain’s emotional centre, makes them special.
More than just any ordinary day of work, your wedding day and your parents’ burial can be recalled fondly thanks to amygdala activation.
These memories are marked as important by the amygdala, which causes them to be processed more thoroughly and repeated more frequently during sleep than less important memories. The net result is that it will be simpler to recall important emotional memories in the future.
For instance, the sleepers’ emotional reaction to late positive potential was lower (LPP). The LPP is a voltage that is detected near the back of the brain. This activates while the brain is processing information; the spikes are more noticeable when the information being processed is a negative emotion. But the LPP is somewhat within human control. We actively strive to alter our feelings about something while we are observing it. Therefore, we are stating, “OK, I’m trying not to react very strongly at the moment; I want to tamp down my emotional response.”
According to this research, sleep aids in the crystallisation of emotional information as well as the regulation of how it affects our feelings. This impact also takes place quickly.
A lot of the current research suggests that getting one good night’s sleep is beneficial. It is beneficial for processing the memory itself and is crucial for overall emotional control.
Sleep, however, is not created equal.
Varieties of Sleep
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is linked to emotional memories, and getting more REM sleep helps people remember emotional events and judge the emotional intents of others. The absence of the stress hormone nor-adrenaline during REM sleep is one idea. When this hormone is momentarily absent, the brain may use the free time to analyze memories without stress.
Another component is the prefrontal cortex, the most developed region of the brain, is where the human impulse to maintain calm and not merely react instantaneously to things” is located. This is the area that controls the amygdala and, by extension, emotions during wake. That link weakens as you sleep. In a sense, it takes the brakes off the emotion during REM sleep.
The assumption that dreams, which are most emotionally powerful during REM sleep, may be meaningfully interpreted has been disproved by scientists. However, recent events do frequently appear in dreams, usually in the form of emotional content rather than a reliving of the event. There is preliminary evidence, that what occurs more frequently in dreams is likewise what is recalled more.
Troubling real-life events are combined with related memories during dreams. Dreamers can contextualise harsh new memories against previously established ones, lessening their impact. Although, non-REM sleep also has an impact. The first sleep stage that consolidates memories is known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), and it is particularly effective in processing neutral memories. According to research, the amount of SWS activity that occurs when you sleep has an impact on how emotional memories are changed.
Non-REM sleep, including SWS in longer naps, makes up the majority of naps. And a recent study demonstrates that naps, rather not just nocturnal sleep, aid toddlers in processing emotional memories. Without a nap, kids exhibited a preference for emotional expressions. After a nap, individuals displayed the “cool as a cucumber” effect, in which they reacted to neutral stimuli just like they did to emotional stimuli. In essence, because they haven’t processed their earlier-day emotions, kids are highly emotional without naps, and they’re susceptible to emotional stimuli.
Although not to the same the extent, naps are beneficial for adults’ emotional processing as well. The hippocampus of an adult is more developed, which enhances their capacity to retain memories.
But only to a certain extent. According to studies on ageing, you need to consolidate memories more frequently as you age because you could have a similar loss of hippocampus storage with ageing.
Strangely, whereas young people seem to have more unpleasant memories, older adults tend to have more happy recollections. It may be adaptive for kids and teenagers to concentrate on bad events because they include important lessons that need to be learnt, such as the perils of fire and the risks associated with accepting a drink from a stranger. But as time goes on, individuals tend to focus on the good things. They also have less REM sleep, which is the type of sleep that is most likely to cement bad memories, particularly in depressed people.
Applications in therapy
The cortical integration functions of sleep “gets stronger over time” in those who do not have sleep disorders. Therefore, getting a good night’s sleep will help you later when processing your emotions.
Researchers studying sleep are also investigating the possibility of using aspects of sleep, such lucid dreaming, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to one study, sleeping within 24 hours after a stressful event will help those memories become less upsetting in the days that follow. Sleep therapy may aid anxiety sufferers by serving as a reminder that their fear has been conquered.
Sleep is necessary for persons with regular cognitive patterns to recuperate from strong experiences, but this may not be the case for people with depression.
A growing trend in the treatment of depression is wake therapy, which involves purposeful sleep deprivation. It isn’t always effective. The circadian clock, however, which is prone to sluggishness in those with depression, may be shocked as a result.
In some circumstances, sleep deprivation may be protective. The natural physiologic response in those settings is that we experience insomnia” after experiencing severe trauma. This could be a sensible response to a peculiar circumstance.
Therefore, the fact that REM sleep restriction makes it harder for the brain to integrate emotional memories is occasionally advantageous. There is strong evidence that those who have longer REM sleep tend to be more depressed. This is because some individuals with depression re-consolidate unpleasant memories while they are sleeping during REM.
Why can insomnia improve some person’s with depression and trauma’s mental state but not others? A recent study raises the possibility that genetics may play a role in the discrepancy. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene is a specific gene that is thought to be important for memory consolidation when we sleep.
Additionally, recent studies indicate that individuals with a particular BDNF gene mutation are more susceptible to having bad memories circle in their minds repeatedly and ineffectively while they sleep. To reduce the amount of REM sleep for them, early bedtimes and early rises may be beneficial. Taking an afternoon nap is also advised for the same reason.
Of all the possible clinical uses for sleep and wake therapy, it is evident that some decisions are better made after sleeping, in part because of how sleep controls all those conflicting emotions.
In general, sleep “helps you feel better. Having a nap might ultimately be the best treatment for a shattered heart or a foggy head.
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