Sleep Preserves Bad Memories Too?
This conclusion comes from an experiment on 100 healthy adults, whose emotional reactions were recorded after being made to view a series of images; some with unsettling scenes. Half of adults were permitted to sleep whilst hooked to polysomnograph to measure brain activity, while the other half stayed awake. All were made to view the same images again 12 hours later.
Results showed that those who stayed awake during the experiment had weaker emotional response, compared to those who took a nap. They also had weaker memories over the images; struggling whether they have seen the images before, compared to their well-rested counterparts.
Sleep can help store memories, both good and bad ones
Sleeping is known to boost memory; sleeping after studying can help pupils remember their lessons before an exam and sleep-deprived persons often exhibit confusion and forgetfulness. At extreme degrees, it can cause memory lapses and forgetting even the simplest of things like personal address or inability to remember phone numbers.
Although sleeping is good for boosting memory and refreshing cognitive functions, it might not be a right thing to do after a traumatic event, say the researchers. Bad memories from the event are known as an indicator for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), whose symptoms include flashbacks and nightmares of the event. PTSD is a common complication among disaster survivors, sexual abuse victims, veteran soldiers and peacekeepers.
Insomnia after the traumatic event can be ‘beneficial’
It is noted that many people have great difficulty of falling asleep after a traumatic event. This, according to researchers, can be the body’s effort to prevent the mind from retaining bad memories of the event, and eventually prevent development of mental disorders later. It might be helpful for a trauma victim to let him/her experience a bout of insomnia after the event, they added.
But having a bad day is not a good excuse for not sleeping, because it gives the body rest. It also helps us retain more memories; to help us avoid doing the same mistake again and learn from it. Sleep deprivation is also not an excuse for cases of mood swings.
Researchers said that their findings ought to be replicated in other experiments, and also had to include more and diverse participants, for it to be more valid. But their findings about association of sleep and memory raised some questions about aging, as people get less sleep as they age. They said that it will be analyzed at their next study.
The findings of the study will be published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
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